The increasingly severe effects of climate change on coastal communities is resulting in recurring and widespread loss of property and human lives. The devastation inflicted by strengthening storm events and routine flooding has rippling effects through the economy and society–especially when support for recovery following a disaster is uneven and unjust.
Yet, the number of people living near coastal areas and floodplains that are highly vulnerable to climate risk continues to grow. Simultaneously, the expansion of man-made infrastructure and paved surfaces along coastlines results in the degradation and destruction of a community’s most enduring and cost-effective natural defense mechanisms–coastal ecosystems, including seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and salt marshes.
Healthy coastal ecosystems act as extremely effective natural wave barriers that protect communities all around the world–from the wealthiest urban district to the most remote rural fishing village.
A 15 foot section of salt marsh can absorb half of all incoming wave energy, while mangroves can reduce over 66% of wave height—easing erosion and flood risk. Yet, man-made coastal construction projects can quickly destroy entire coral colonies and beach habitats, undermining the chances of survival for wildlife and the people that depend upon them. Coastal armoring structures in particular, which are built in reaction to erosion and storm surges, inadvertently degrade essential coastal habitats by blocking vital nutrient and sediment flow. In the U.S. alone, over 14,000 miles of natural coastline has been covered by concrete walls.
Coastal wetlands also represent one of our best solutions to directly confronting climate change by serving as a critical sink for “blue carbon”–the carbon from the atmosphere that is sequestered through coastal vegetation and stored for very long periods of time in the sediments below. It is estimated that healthy coastal blue carbon ecosystems can store up to 10 times the amount of carbon per hectare relative to terrestrial forest ecosystems–and the degradation of these systems can release large amounts of stored carbon back to the atmosphere. In addition, healthy coastal ecosystems play a critical role in filtering water to remove excess nutrients and sediment, thereby significantly improving water quality and mitigating stressors to the environment, like ocean acidification, which threaten our livelihoods and marine biodiversity.
However, despite the many benefits afforded by coastal ecosystems, habitats like seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and salt marshes are in sharp decline. And, with the loss of these resources, our climate resilience and natural security is dramatically diminished.
The Ocean Foundation’s Blue Resilience Initiative is dedicated to restoring, conserving, and financing natural coastal infrastructure by equipping key stakeholders with the tools, technical expertise, and policy frameworks to achieve large scale climate risk reduction. Through our instructional workshops and global educational outreach, we help build local capacity by connecting experts with local practitioners to provide guidance and support at all stages of a natural infrastructure project. We amplify our impact by working with government officials and community leaders on developing policies that support the restoration and conservation of coastal ecosystems through new stewardship approaches and financial strategies.
Above all, The Ocean Foundation is focused on addressing geographic and institutional gaps to ensure support reaches the communities who need it the most: those that face the greatest climate risk. And, our approach goes beyond simply preserving what is left. We seek to actively restore abundance and enhance the productivity of coastal ecosystems in order to help communities all around the world thrive despite increasing resource needs and climate threats.
The Ocean Foundation has been involved in coastal restoration since 2008 and released the first-ever Blue Carbon Offset Calculator in 2012 to provide charitable carbon offsets for individual donors, foundations, corporations, and events through the restoration and conservation of important coastal habitats that sequester and store carbon, including seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and salt marshes. To-date, major offset projects have been completed in the Florida Keys National Monument, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Narragansett Bay.
The Ocean Foundation is currently leading a large-scale seagrass and mangrove restoration project at the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in close partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and Conservación ConCiencia, a Puerto Rico-based nonprofit. In addition, with support from the U.S. State Department, TOF is currently funding a mangrove restoration project in Fiji that focuses on the role mangroves play in mitigating ocean acidification through the use of a specialized ocean chemistry kit developed by TOF as part of its work with the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON).
Showcasing our support for finding policy and market-based solutions to climate risk, TOF has been providing ongoing technical advice on the Global Environment Facility (GEF) International Waters focal area since 2014. Our support helped enable the GEF Blue Forests Project to provide the first global-scale assessment of the values associated with coastal carbon and ecosystem services. Our work with the GEF led to support for the development of the Verified Carbon Standard’s (VCS) VM0033 Methodology for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration, which allows for the generation of certified carbon credits. TOF is currently working with the methodology’s authors to release an expanded VCS methodology, the VM0007 REDD+ Methodology Framework (REDD+MF), v1.6, that allows the generation of carbon credits through blue carbon conservation efforts.
The Bigger Picture
Healthy coastal ecosystems offer substantial socio-economic benefits by supporting productive recreational and commercial fisheries as well as other ocean-dependent industries including tourism. The conservation and restoration of these ecosystems can provide both direct and indirect enhancements to local livelihoods.
Healthy and productive coastal ecosystems can contribute to much-needed sources of income for local communities and create alternative livelihoods that are less harmful to the environment.
The restoration and protection of coastal marine ecosystems may also encourage foreign investment that can help drive local sustainable development and foster the growth of human and natural capital throughout a broader economic region.
The most effective, yet overlooked, method for long term sequestration and storage of carbon.
Seagrasses serve as a reliable source for carbon sequestration.
Seagrasses, Nature’s Water Filter
Proper conservation and management of seagrass meadows is critical to combat the global loss of seagrasses.
Coastal Ecosystems Are Our First Line of Defense Against Hurricanes
Hurricanes remind us that our coasts and those who live near them are vulnerable.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint and Defend Our Coasts & Ocean