Jessica Sherry

Blue Carbon: Restoring Coastal Wetlands in Southern California

Conservationists often think of forests as the only suitable ecosystems for natural carbon storage, but thanks to an emerging body of new scientific research, we have learned how blue carbon ecosystems such as salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests have real carbon sequestration and storage superpowers. These often overlooked and threatened ecosystems are now considered vital to helping adapt to and mitigate climate change. 

Blue carbon ecosystems are exceptional at storing carbon because they are more effective at burying plants that have settled in the soil. When these plants get buried they do not decompose, which keeps the carbon that is stored in them from being released back into the atmosphere. Coastal blue carbon ecosystems also help make coastal communities more resilient to flooding, provide habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreation.

The WILDCOAST team restoring coastlines near San Diego. Photo credit: Alita Films

Mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes have been storing carbon for millenia. They have amassed so much stored carbon already and have the potential to store so much more, making the conservation, restoration, and management of these ecosystems critical in the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, they also risk emitting that stored carbon back into the atmosphere if they are degraded by rising sea levels and encroaching development. 

That is why WILDCOAST, an international conservation team, is helping to conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems. In California, we are collaborating with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the amount of carbon stored in local blue carbon ecosystems. In Mexico we are planting tens of thousands of mangroves in partnership with local fishing communities. By conserving and restoring these ecosystems, we ensure that the carbon stored in them remains in the ground for years to come, and that they will have even greater potential to store more carbon in the ongoing fight against climate change. 

In Southern California, WILDCOAST is working with organizations such as the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation to restore some of San Diego County‚Äôs iconic coastal wetlands. Community members are helping us to restore these lagoons by removing invasive species of plants, replanting native species, and maintaining trails so that visitors and local residents can respectfully enjoy these natural wonders. 

Photo credit: Alita Films

Many of our volunteers in San Diego County are from Indigenous communities that have been stewarding the coast for time immemorial. These communities have been displaced and disconnected from their coastal spaces.

To this end, WILDCOAST recently launched the Coastal Leaders internship for Indigenous Youth, a year-long opportunity for students from local Indigenous communities to gain hands-on experience in conservation, including blue carbon ecosystem conservation and restoration.

By involving local communities in blue carbon ecosystem protection and restoration we can cultivate the next generation of ocean stewards, thereby ensuring these ecosystems and our planet continue to thrive for generations to come. 

Angela Kemsley is the Conservation Director and Carlos Callado is the California Conservation Coordinator of WILDCOAST. 

WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems, and addresses climate change through natural solutions