First Carbon Market Guidance for Wetlands

In the race to lessen the damage of climate change, the nation’s estuaries are a powerful ally. Acre for acre, wetlands can absorb up to five times as much carbon as rainforests and also store methane and nitrous oxide, two other greenhouse gases.

The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and partners created the first-ever U.S. tool and guide on marketing the “blue carbon” in wetlands under the Bringing Wetlands to Market project. In effect, blue-carbon markets create financial incentives for wetland restoration and conservation. Countries and companies use carbon markets to limit carbon dioxide emissions by balancing emissions with contributions to systems that take carbon out of the atmosphere.

The research, tools, and resources are helping communities and policymakers make more informed decisions on carbon storage, greenhouse gas offsets, and climate change action. One finding was that restoring tidal flows from Massachusetts’ Herring River to 1,100 acres of degraded wetlands could potentially yield a climate-mitigation value of $8 million (or $7,700 per acre) over the next 100 years using “social coast of carbon” estimates. Researchers also found that restoring tidal flow to restricted or degraded marshes reduces the greenhouse gas methane, and that the common reed stores more carbon than native marsh grasses. These discoveries are influencing decisions on blue-carbon projects in Massachusetts across the nation.

Moreover, teachers and students nationwide are learning about blue-carbon science through the reserve system’s Teacher on the Estuary program using a new blue carbon curriculum developed by educators at the Waquoit Bay Reserve and sister Reserves. Following the leadership of the Waquoit Bay Reserve and BWM research partners, other reserves in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas have held blue carbon workshops to help constituents design successful blue carbon projects. And Pacific Northwest organizations are using the tools to speed up and fine-tune their own blue-carbon efforts. (2016)

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Partners: Florida International University, West Virginia University, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’ Marine Biological Laboratory, National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, Restore America’s Estuaries, University of Rhode Island, U.S. Geological Survey’s Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve