The Nature Conservancy’s blue carbon initiative is demonstrating how eelgrass can mitigate climate change, improve coastal resilience, and restore habitat on the Virginia shore.
Eelgrass plays an essential role in Virginia’s coastal ecosystems — it provides habitat for fish and shellfish, serves as a food source for migratory birds, reduces wave energy-induced erosion, and buffers against ocean acidity associated with elevated carbon in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, by the 1930’s a wasting disease wiped out most of the eel grass on the Virginia coast and most of the North Atlantic.
An exciting partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the University of Virginia (UVA) has restored nearly 9,000 acres of eelgrass on the Virginia Coast Reserve. This partnership is part of TNC’s broader efforts to advance “blue carbon” programs in the U.S. and worldwide. Blue carbon is the carbon sequestered in coastal wetlands like seagrass meadows, tidal grasslands and mangrove forests. In addition to restoring marine habitat, UVA research has shown that blue carbon projects like this present a significant opportunity to mitigate climate change.
This effort is also helping TNC demonstrate the viability of generating carbon credits from coastal restoration programs. A study commissioned by TNC estimates that this eelgrass restoration project has the potential to capture more than 42,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over 30 years, generating more than 40,000 offsets. Sale of these offsets under Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard could raise more than $1 million dollars for further coastal restoration projects, while also blazing a trail for future blue carbon projects worldwide.
Collaborating on innovative ways to conserve blue carbon ecosystems presents an unprecedented global opportunity: to simultaneously build more resilient communities, economies, and coastlines in a climate changing world.