‘Blue Carbon’: A Natural Ally in the Fight Against Climate Change

Resources on international and U.S. research, policy, and protocols to protect coastal wetlands and measure the carbon they capture

'Blue Carbon': An Ally in Fighting Climate Change
Red mangroves
Red mangroves and turtle grass grow along Lighthouse Reef, an atoll in Belize. Mangroves boost coastal resilience to storms, providing protection for roughly 200 million people worldwide.
Alamy Nature Picture Library

“Blue carbon” refers to carbon dioxide that the Earth’s coastal wetland ecosystems absorb from the atmosphere. The name first came into use after scientists determined that these habitats are important “carbon sinks”—ecosystems that absorb more carbon dioxide from the environment than they release into it and can store that carbon for millennia.

Coastal wetlands, such as mangrove forests, salt marshes, and seagrasses, are especially efficient in removing carbon dioxide from the air and surrounding waters. Although they comprise less than 5% of global land area and less than 2% of the ocean, these habitats store roughly 50% of all carbon buried in ocean sediments. In addition, they are a valuable tool to help communities adapt to severe storms, flooding, and other climate change-related threats. However, these benefits are at risk; over the past half-century, the world has lost more than a third of coastal wetlands to development, pollution, and rising seas related to climate change. Nations around the globe, along with U.S. states, are increasingly recognizing the potential of blue carbon—alongside emissions reductions—to help address climate change and advance climate commitments and global objectives.

The Pew Charitable Trusts works with governments and nongovernmental entities worldwide to protect and expand the globe’s blue carbon habitats. The resources collected on this page capture the breadth and potential of those efforts in the U.S. and around the world.

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Girl Exploring the Outer Banks
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Threatened Coastal Habitats Face Management Challenges

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Coastal habitats in the U.S., many of which are vulnerable and declining, provide significant benefits to people, marine life, and the climate, and would benefit from comprehensive monitoring and management, according to a new white paper from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

California’s Elkhorn Slough
California’s Elkhorn Slough
Event

Addressing Coastal Landscapes in Transition

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Event

Coastal wetlands in the United States capture and store millions of tons of carbon each year, making these “blue carbon” ecosystems an important focus for states looking to enhance their resilience to climate effects, bolster mitigation efforts, and secure the myriad benefits these habitats provide to humans and wildlife.

Wetlands
Wetlands

U.S. States Play Major Role Boosting 'Blue Carbon'

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U.S. states and local jurisdictions are largely responsible for governing their coasts, so they play a critical role in ensuring the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” habitats.

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Mangrove forest
Mangrove forest
Issue Brief

Coastal 'Blue Carbon' and Combating Climate Change

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Issue Brief

Coastal wetlands, including salt marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows, are among the most productive—and threatened—ecosystems on the planet.

Scientist measuring water depth
Scientist measuring water depth
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Philadelphia Museum of Art