Something that has a significant effect on our daily lives and is stored within the largest system of water on our planet MUST be a household name, right? Not necessarily. Ever heard of blue carbon? Chances are the answer is no, but perhaps you know more than you realize.
The term blue carbon, while not a common term, is simply the carbon captured by the world's ocean and coastal ecosystems. Let's back up a moment. Likely you've heard that human activities give off, or emit something known as carbon dioxide, which contains atmospheric carbon. You've also heard that these gases are changing the world's climate, and not in a good way. What you may not have heard is that our ocean and coasts provide a natural way of reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere, through sequestration (or taking in) of this carbon. Sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes along our coast "capture and hold" carbon, acting as something called a carbon sink. Not only that but these coastal systems, though much smaller in size than the forests on our planet, sequester this carbon at a much faster rate and can continue to do so for millions of years. Most of the carbon taken up by these ecosystems is stored below ground where we can’t see it, but it is still there. This soil carbon is often thousands of years old!
The bigger picture of blue carbon is one of coastal habitat conservation. When these systems are damaged, an enormous amount of carbon gets emitted back into the atmosphere which can then contribute to climate change. Protecting and restoring these habitats is a good way to reduce climate change. When we protect the carbon in these ecosystems, we protect healthy coastal environments that provide many other benefits to people such as recreational opportunities, storm protection, and nursery habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries. As Dr. Ariana Sutton-Grier, a scientist with NOAA's coastal blue carbon effort puts it, "...blue carbon is just one more reason to love the oceans and the coasts. It's another way to draw attention to the importance of protecting and restoring these absolutely essential habitats."