Blue Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Blue Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

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As you may know, terrestrial forests are important for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. But did you know that blue carbon ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes) can store more carbon and also at greater rates than terrestrial forests? So, we had to ask: What are blue carbon offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Blue carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offsets that protect coastal marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes). Blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sink and are cost-effective; however, they often lack permanence and a standardized methodology.

Keep reading to find out all about what blue carbon offsets are, how they work, how effective and efficient they are, what their pros and cons are, and what the best ones are. At the end of the article, we’ll also share with you how blue carbon offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Blue Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere. They are measured in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by reforestation”

Oxford Dictionary

Blue carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on the preservation of coastal and marine ecosystems. Blue carbon is the carbon that is stored in coastal and marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes). 

“Blue Carbon: the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

There are over 120 million acres of blue carbon ecosystems worldwide that provide habitat for species, support food security, sustain coastal communities, and protect our coastlines. Mangroves are found in the intertidal zone of tropical and subtropical shores, seagrasses are found in coastal waters, and salt marshes are found mostly in temperate zones. 

Blue carbon is one example of biological carbon sequestration, or the storage of carbon in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks. Blue carbon offsets focus on preserving mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, which constitute one of our largest carbon sinks yet are being degraded at 4x the rate of tropical forests

What are blue carbon offsetsBlue carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on the preservation of coastal and marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrass beds, and tidal marshes).
How do blue carbon offsets workBlue carbon offset projects reduce CO2 emissions by reinforcing marine and coastal ecosystems, which are carbon sinks capable of absorbing and permanently storing large amounts of carbon.
How effective and efficient are blue carbon offsetsEffectiveness: Blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sink and can continue to avoid carbon emissions after their project life span; however, they also often lack permanence and large-scale funding. They also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
Efficiency: Blue carbon offsets are efficient at carbon sequestration and storage and are relatively cost-effective; however, they often lack a standardized methodology.
What are the 6 pros of blue carbon offsetsBlue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sinks
Blue carbon offsets can continue to avoid CO2 emissions after their project life span
Blue carbon offsets preserve biodiversity
Blue carbon offsets help maintain water quality
Blue carbon offsets are cost-effective
Blue carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 4 cons of blue carbon offsetsBlue carbon offsets often lack permanence
Blue carbon offsets lack a standardized methodology
Blue carbon offsets lack financial support
Blue carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
What are the best blue carbon offsetsThe best blue carbon offsets are offered by The Ocean Foundation, SeaTrees, and One Tree Planted, which protect seagrasses, watersheds, and mangrove communities. In addition, Reforest’Action plants mangrove forests in Sumatra and South Pole restores Indonesian peat swamp forests.
How can blue carbon offsets help mitigate climate changeBlue carbon offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they protect coastal and marine ecosystems, which are capable of absorbing more CO2 per acre than rainforests and at a rate 10x greater. 

What Are Blue Carbon Offsets

Blue carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on the preservation of coastal and marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes). 

Blue carbon is the carbon that is stored in coastal and marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes). 

“Blue Carbon: the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Blue carbon is one example of biological carbon sequestration, or the storage of carbon in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks. There are over 120 million acres of blue carbon ecosystems worldwide that provide habitat for species, support food security, sustain coastal communities, and protect our coastlines. 

How Do Blue Carbon Offsets Work

Blue carbon offsets fund projects that reduce CO2 emissions by increasing the number of mangrove trees on the planet and protecting them, seagrass beds, and tidal marsh areas from further degradation. These ecosystems absorb CO2 as they grow and mature, which bolsters our marine carbon sink and allows for increased atmospheric CO2 absorption.

Blue carbon offsets focus on preserving mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, which constitute one of our largest carbon sinks yet are being degraded at 4x the rate of tropical forests

Blue carbon projects reduce CO2 emissions by increasing the number of mangrove trees on the planet and by protecting seagrass beds and tidal marsh areas, all of which absorb CO2 as they grow and mature.

If undisturbed, blue carbon ecosystems can absorb enough carbon to keep pace with moderate sea level rise. These ecosystems can also sequester carbon at higher rates per unit area than terrestrial ecosystems. 

  • Mangroves and salt marshes can absorb 3-5x more carbon per acre (ac) than tropical forests at a rate 10 times greater.
  • Seagrass meadows store 11% of the ocean’s buried carbon despite only accounting for only 0.1% of the world’s seafloor. 
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of blue offsets? Check out the full article here: “What Are Blue Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture”

How Effective and Efficient Are Blue Carbon Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sink and can continue to avoid CO2 emissions after project durations. However, they also often lack permanence and large-scale funding, and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

In terms of efficiency, blue carbon offsets are efficient at carbon sequestration and storage and are relatively cost-effective. However, they also lack a standardized methodology.

Blue carbon offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they:

  • Reinforce our marine carbon sink, which absorbs roughly 25% of the carbon we emit every year
  • Can continue to avoid CO2 emissions after their project life span, so long as they are not deforested prematurely

However, blue carbon offsets can also lack effectiveness because they:

Blue carbon offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they:

However, blue carbon offsets can also lack efficiency because there is no overarching mechanism to regulate the carbon stored in coastal, marine, or wetland soils and biomass. Leading standards all have different methodologies for assessing blue carbon. 

Blue carbon offsets also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. This occurs when emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, and the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of blue carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Blue Carbon Offsets: All 6 Pros and 4 Cons Explained”

What Are The 6 Pros and 4 Cons of Blue Carbon Offsets

Blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sinks, can continue to avoid CO2 emissions after project durations, preserve biodiversity, help maintain water quality, are relatively cost-effective, and allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Blue carbon offsets often lack permanence, a standardized methodology, large-scale funding, and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

Related: Did you know that you can make Amazon donate 0.5% of your purchases to a charitable organization of your choice. Sign up at smile.amazon.com, select the charity you want your donations to go to, and make Amazon donate a part of your purchases to your chosen charity at no extra cost to you.

What Are the 6 Pros of Blue Carbon Offsets

Blue carbon offsets have various pros that make them effective at absorbing carbon from our atmosphere.

6 Pros of Blue Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sinkBlue carbon ecosystems can permanently store carbon at depths of up to 6 meters for up to 1,000 years. They can also sequester carbon at higher rates per unit area than terrestrial ecosystems, making them an important carbon sink.
#2: Blue carbon offsets can continue to avoid CO2 emissions after their project life spanBlue carbon projects can continue to reduce carbon emissions long after mangroves have been planted, so long as they are not deforested, because trees can continue absorbing carbon long after they mature.
#3: Blue carbon offsets preserve biodiversityBlue carbon offsets promote biodiversity because they support aquatic wildlife by providing habitat and helping to keep our waterways healthy. A number of birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and plants rely on mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes for habitats. 
#4: Blue carbon offsets help maintain water qualityAll trees capture, store, and use rainfall which aids in maintaining water quality and regulating the natural water cycle. More specifically, blue carbon ecosystems play an important role in regulating water quality because they act as giant water filters. 
#5: Blue carbon offsets are cost-effectiveBlue carbon offsets themselves are typically more cost-effective than other categories of carbon offsets. For example, blue carbon offsets from leading providers (e.g., The Ocean Foundation, One Tree Planted, Reforest’Action, and South Pole) cost less than $30 per ton of CO2 offset.
#6: Blue carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyBlue carbon offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 4 Cons of Blue Carbon Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of blue carbon offsets is important when implementing this strategy on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

4 Cons of Blue Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Blue carbon offsets often lack permanenceNature-based solutions, such as blue carbon, lack permanence. Blue carbon ecosystems are currently being degraded at 4 times the rate of tropical forests. Climate change is one of the leading factors that can negate blue carbon permanence. 
#2: Blue carbon offsets lack a standardized methodologyThe storage of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is well documented and managed via the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism. However, there is no overarching mechanism to regulate the carbon stored in coastal, marine, or wetland soils and biomass.
#3: Blue carbon offsets lack large-scale fundingAlthough they are capable of providing 1/3 of the total emissions reductions needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, blue carbon ecosystems only receive 3% of total climate investments globally.
#4: Blue carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. 

How Could you Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Blue Carbon Offsets

The market for carbon offsets was small in the year 2000, but by 2010 it had already grown to represent nearly $10 billion worldwide. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions. 

The Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050. And because blue carbon offsets protect one of our largest carbon sinks, they are predicted to make up an increasingly larger share of this market.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best blue carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Blue Carbon Offsets (Complete 2024 List)”
Blue Carbon Offset CompanyQuick Facts
The Ocean FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the SeaGrass Grow, seagrass planting project.
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
SeaTreesAbout: Carbon offset purchases support coral reef/kelp forest/watershed restoration as well as mangrove tree planting.
Costs: $22 per 1,000kg of CO2
One Tree PlantedAbout: Carbon offset purchases support their mangrove planting blue carbon project, which plants mangrove trees in Costa Rica, the Philippines, India, Haiti, and Guatemala.
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
Reforest’ActionAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the mangrove restoration projects in Sumatra.
Costs: Approx. $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
South PoleAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Preserve project on the island of Borneo in Indonesia. The project protects over 200 thousand acres of tropical peat swamp.
Costs: $21.55 per 1,000kg of CO2
Sustainable Travel InternationalAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the Katingan Mentaya Blue Carbon Project. This project protects and restores 370,000+ acres of peat swamp forest in Borneo.
Costs: $16 per 1,000kg of CO2
Restore the Earth FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support wetland reforestation in the Lower Mississippi River Basin, also known as the North American Amazon.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
EcologiAbout: Carbon offset purchases support two coastal mangrove planting projects in Madagascar and one in Mozambique.
Costs: $6.04 per 1,000kg of CO2
The Carbon Offset CompanyAbout: Carbon offset purchases support their mangrove reforestation blue carbon project located in Casa Partida, Mozambique.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
myclimateAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the Blue Forests for Coral Reef Protection project, which protects over 2,400 acres of mangrove forests in Madagascar.
Costs: $23-$30 per 1,000kg of CO2

How Can Blue Carbon Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Blue carbon offsets can help mitigate climate change because they protect our coastal marine ecosystems. The healthier they are, the more CO2 they can absorb from our atmosphere. Atmospheric carbon can, if left untreated, remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

How is Climate Change Defined

Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of fossil fuel combustion. Every year, approximately 33 billion tons (bt) of CO2 are emitted from burning fossil fuels. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

“Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.”

Oxford Dictionary

Atmospheric CO2 fuels climate change, which results in global warming. When CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, it traps the heat and acts as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050

How Do Carbon Offsets Generally Help Mitigate Climate Change

Levels of carbon in our atmosphere that cause climate change have increased as a result of human emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million. Carbon offsets can help prevent these levels from increasing even more.

When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation”. Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere

Carbon offsets that meet key criteria and verified project standards, are additional and permanent, and are part of projects that are carried out until the end of their lifespan have the best chance of reducing carbon emissions and therefore reducing climate change. 

When we offset CO2 we also slow the rate of global temperature rise, which in turn minimizes the effects of climate change. 

How Do Blue Carbon Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Blue carbon offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they protect coastal and marine ecosystems, which are capable of absorbing more CO2 per acre than rainforests and at a rate 10x greater. The more we reinforce these ecosystems, the more we enable them to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in biomass and soils for long periods of time.

Final Thoughts

Blue carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions by reinforcing blue carbon ecosystems, one of our largest carbon sinks. They reinforce our marine carbon sink, preserve biodiversity, help maintain water quality, are relatively cost-effective, and allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually. However, they also often lack permanence, a standardized methodology, and large-scale funding, and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

The top blue carbon offsets are those offered by companies whose blue carbon projects are verified by recognized standards. But although blue carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. In the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough to mitigate climate change for future generations. 

When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, blue carbon offsets can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose blue carbon offsets.

Stay impactful,

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