‘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

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.

Issue Brief

How Seagrasses Help NC Address Climate Change

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Issue Brief

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally will require a multifaceted approach. Conserving, restoring, and managing natural habitats such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands is one strategy that can help moderate emissions and slow the rate of climate change.

A woman kneels in shallow water and places aquatic vegetation into a plastic bag. Forests and mountains are visible in the background.
A woman kneels in shallow water and places aquatic vegetation into a plastic bag. Forests and mountains are visible in the background.
Event

Exploring Oregon's Blue Carbon Mapping Tool

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Event

Coastal ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest provide essential benefits to nature and people, including serving as an important nature-based solution in the fight against climate change by sequestering significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and surrounding waters. As states seek to advance climate goals, coastal land managers increasingly need tools to help them understand the carbon storage potential within the coastal zone. Oregon has been a leader in these efforts, developing a restoration opportunity inventory map to help inform land management and climate policy and funding decisions.

A school of slim yellow fish swims above a dense meadow of green and maroon seagrasses with the deep blue ocean visible in the far background.
A school of slim yellow fish swims above a dense meadow of green and maroon seagrasses with the deep blue ocean visible in the far background.
Article

Seychelles, North Carolina Showcase Power of Seagrasses

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Article

Seagrasses—flowering marine plants that form dense underwater meadows—boost coastal economies and can capture and store significant amounts of climate-harming carbon, known as “blue carbon.” But they are also one of the most imperiled ecosystems on Earth, declining globally at 7% each year. Up to 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released annually worldwide from degraded coastal ecosystems, including seagrasses—an amount equivalent to the emissions from 222 million gas-powered cars on the road for a year.

Girl Exploring the Outer Banks
Girl Exploring the Outer Banks
Article

Threatened Coastal Habitats Face Management Challenges

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Article

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

OUR WORK

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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.

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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Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

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How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.