New Approach to Blue Carbon Projects Underway in Colombia

A mangrove preservation project along Colombia’s Caribbean coast is using a more comprehensive method to calculate how much carbon is stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, potentially boosting global efforts to conserve so-called blue carbon.

Conservation International, working with several partners in Colombia, is spearheading a mangrove protection initiative in Cispatá, Colombia that calculates not only the amount of carbon stored above-water in mangrove trees but also the amount stored underwater in roots and soil. Previous blue carbon projects in mangrove forests have generally counted only carbon stored above water. But since as much as 60 percent of a wetland’s or a mangrove forest’s carbon is sequestered underwater, the new accounting method increases the amount and value of carbon that communities can claim if they protect mangrove forests.

Acre for acre, mangrove forests can store up to 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests, but in recent decades vast areas of mangroves globally have been lost to aquaculture and development. Conservation International said that as many as 1 billion tons a year of CO2 are released annually from mangrove and other degraded coastal ecosystems, equal to the total amount of CO2 emissions from all of South America in 2019.

“This new [carbon-measuring] methodology means mangroves can now be a financially viable carbon investment, which will drive the funding communities need to keep them standing,” said Paula Sierra, information and research coordinator at Colombia’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Research, which is partnering with Conservation International. “On the flip side, it also means we will have a better understanding of the environmental cost of their destruction.”

Local residents of Cispatá, located on the Gulf of Morrosquillo south of Cartagena, will be paid to preserve the area’s mangrove forests, which provide habitat for wildlife and fish and protection from storm surges. The project, with funding from Apple, will be expanded to protect all of the mangroves in the Gulf of Morrosquillo, according to Conservation International. The organization said it also is discussing plans to expand its mangrove protection efforts to three other locations in Colombia.

Jen Howard, senior director of Conservation International’s Blue Carbon Program, said that scientists working in Cispatá’s mangrove forests extracted soil up to 10 feet deep to analyze its carbon content. “The muck that we pulled up hasn’t seen the light of day for 100-plus years,” Howard said in a news release. “It’s not pretty, but this `blue carbon’ is vitally important in the effort to address global climate change and help end mangrove destruction.”

Blue carbon projects to protect and restore wetland and coastal ecosystems are gaining momentum worldwide, with mangrove forests at the center of these efforts.