Focus on mangroves: Blue carbon science for sustainable development

Posted by


CIFOR scientists collect mangrove leaves to assess the above-ground carbon stock. Photo credit: Kate Evans/CIFOR

By Leona Liu, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Mangrove forests have been recognized for a variety of important functions, such as buffering coastal zones from tropical storms and inundation, providing nutrients to coral reefs, and serving as rich habitats for fish and wildlife.

With three million hectares of mangrove forests lining its 95,000-kilometer coastline, Indonesia is a key battlefield when it comes to raising awareness about the potential of ‘blue carbon.’

The world’s archipelago harbors nearly a quarter of the world’s mangroves. But Indonesia, like most of the world, is losing its coastal forests at an alarming rate. The country lost 40 percent of its mangroves in the past three decades.

‘Coastal blue carbon’ is known as the carbon stored in tidal wetland ecosystems, which includes tidally influenced forests, mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows. It is kept within soil, living biomass and non-living biomass carbon pools. ‘Coastal blue carbon’ is a subset of ‘blue carbon’, which also includes ocean blue carbon that represents carbon stored in open ocean carbon pools.

“Indonesia is losing 52,000 hectares of mangroves per year, or the equivalent of three football fields of mangroves per week,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Working on the study on Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP). Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Murdiyarso was one of three speakers at the recent event titled, Mangrove ecosystems in Indonesia: A strategic resource for local sustainable economy and adaptation to climate change, held on the occasion of World Wetlands Day. The event was hosted at the Italian Cultural Institute in Jakarta with the support of the Embassy of Italy.

Carbon powerhouses

Coastal blue carbon ecosystems are the planet’s greatest carbon storehouses. They are capable of capturing and storing excessive atmospheric carbon with burial rates 20 times greater than any other terrestrial ecosystem, including boreal and tropical forests.

But when cleared or degraded, blue carbon ecosystems can transform into worrisome emission sources. Currently, global greenhouse gas emissions from unsustainable coastal development amount to one billion per year.

One-fifth of that (200 million tons CO2-eq) is produced by the country of Indonesia alone- the equivalent of 40 million fewer cars on the roads, according to Murdiyarso.

“The rate of conversion in Indonesia is very high at 2 percent,” he said. “And recent findings show that the loss of mangroves is not only caused by fish, shrimp and aquaculture development, but also by oil palm plantation development.”
Mangrove forests on Lake Tabarisia. Mamberamo Raya, Papua. Photo by Mokhammad Edliadi for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

This finding is surprising, as the saline environment of mangrove ecosystems is hardly conducive to growing palm oil. But that hasn’t stopped the trend.

“This is now happening in North Sumatra and on the east coast of Riau near Pekanbaru,” said fellow event speaker Nyoman N. Suryadiputra who heads the Indonesian arm of the NGO Wetland International.

“My worry is that they will do the same in Papua and West Papua. This province has the most mangrove forests in Indonesia, with a shallow layer of peat underneath. It’s a very dangerous situation because many big oil palm companies are invading the area. If they drain the forests, the peat will subside, the sea level will rise, and it cause significant inundations for the local communities.”

The value of blue carbon

Given its large carbon stocks, mangroves hold high potential economic value under climate adaptation and mitigation schemes like the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism.

“If the price of one ton of carbon is valued at $5 USD, and if Indonesia could halt the current emissions from degrading coastal blue carbon ecosystems, this would represent $6 billion USD in gains from the carbon market”, said Murdiyarso.

“Compare this to the current revenue generated by Indonesia’s shrimp export industry ($1.2 billion USD). The conversion of mangrove forests to shrimp ponds brings only a fraction of the income that could be earned from the carbon market. Policymakers should consider this and realize the value of coastal ecosystems,” he further explained.

Co-benefits derived from the restoration and protection of mangroves, such as biodiversity, ecotourism, non-timber forest products and watershed protection, are additional financial incentives for policymakers to consider.

According to Murdiyarso, adaptation to the impacts of climate change should be mainstreamed into the political and economic development planning and implementation process.

“In Indonesia, there is a lack of national guidelines on how to conserve and restore mangroves. The only regulation [Presidential Regulation No. 73/2012] on the national mangrove ecosystem management strategy is insufficient because it is merely coordinative. Within the regulation, it specifies who should do what but it doesn’t say anything about how,” he said.

More science and initiatives are needed

More research on blue carbon is needed to meet the targets outlined by the global development agenda. According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report, oceans and wetlands remain extremely vulnerable to environmental degradation, overfishing, climate change and pollution.

SDG 14, “Life below water”, aims to conserve and use marine resources for sustainable development. One of its targets is that by 2020, marine and coastal ecosystems should be sustainably managed, protected and restored.

The recent Paris Agreement, which required all parties to put forward their best efforts through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), represents a rare and important window of opportunity to include blue carbon in national climate strategies.

Today, only 50 countries have recognized the value of blue carbon in their NDCs. To much surprise, Indonesia- the world’s largest archipelago – has not recognized mangrove conservation in its National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation (RAN-API).

“We need to focus on blue carbon science to support policymakers with credible scientific information to make better decisions about the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources,” said Murdiyarso, in representing CIFOR, one of the founding members of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC).

Launched at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum at the COP21 in Paris, the partnership aims to connect the efforts of governments, research organizations and non-government organizations on integrating blue carbon into climate policies and agendas.

It was created by the governments of Australia, Indonesia and Costa Rica, alongside various partners such as the Blue Carbon Initiative, GRID-Arendal, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Office of the Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner, the Global Change Institute, and CIFOR.

For more information on this topic, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at
This research was supported by USAID

Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us