EDITORIAL: Keep reading for good news about blue carbon

By Editorial – Comox Valley Record
Published: April 17, 2013 4:00 PM; Updated: April 17, 2013 4:55 PM


If you knew this editorial involved blue carbon or carbon sequestration, would you read on?

Nonetheless, we ask that you keep reading.

For the second time in four months, Environment Minister Terry Lake was in the Comox Valley last week to deal with the issue.

Just before Christmas, he was in MLA Don McRae’s office with several other people, including Project Watershed chair Paul Horgen, to discuss the topic.

Last week, Lake visited again to sign a memorandum of understanding with Project Watershed and Vancouver Island University.

At stake — the health of B.C.’s many estuaries and the future of the planet.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment is providing a modest $30,000 toward the first phase of scientific research planning for blue carbon projects in this region.

If successful, the partnership will lead to better understanding of climate change, improvements to coastal ecosystems and possibly provide economic benefits.

Blue carbon the carbon that is stored in the marine environment, shellfish, plants and sediment. According to Lake’s ministry, “healthy estuaries remove and store carbon dioxide, possibly even more effectively than plants on land.”

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere reduces global warming. Eelgrass, for example, naturally absorbs and stores carbon dioxide.

Horgen notes, however, that eelgrass meadows are disappearing from estuaries due to pollution and habitat destruction.

Horgen, an extremely bright and educated man with the ability to make complex things understandable, is leading a drive to restore the health of the Courtenay River estuary in particular.

While it’s complicated, doing so would increase the amount of eelgrass, which would raise the amount of CO2 taken from the air, which could lead to the sale of greenhouse gas offsets, which would bring money to the Comox Valley.

Horgen’s leadership in the Comox Valley could lead to better health in B.C.’s 422 estuaries.



Unlocking Coastal BC’s Blue Carbon Opportunities

The following article was posted in The British Columbia Newsroom and The VIU News.

Issued by the BC Ministry of Environment, April 9, 2013

COURTENAY – The B.C. government is partnering with Vancouver Island University and the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society to better understand how coastal communities can combine action on climate change and improvements to coastal ecosystems, and at the same time potentially benefit economically from these activities.

The Province, Vancouver Island University and Comox Valley Project Watershed Society have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and identified opportunities – starting in the Comox Valley – for these blue carbon projects in B.C.

To contribute to the success of the agreement, the Ministry of Environment is providing $30,000 to commission a first phase of scientific research planning. Blue carbon is the carbon stored in the marine environment, shellfish, plants and sediment. Healthy estuaries remove and store carbon dioxide – possibly even more effectively than plants on land.

B.C. has 27,200 kilometres of coastline and 422 estuaries to work with. Blue carbon projects have climate change reduction and adaptation benefits, as well as economic and environmental opportunities for communities and First Nations along the B.C. coastline.

The parties have agreed to:

  • Identify additional eligible project areas for blue carbon project activities along the B.C. coast.
  • Evaluate the reasonable cost per tonne to undertake various blue carbon projects, including key variables in forecasting costs (i.e., accessible vs. inaccessible coastline).
  • Undertake projects involving a wide range of shoreline and estuary protection and habitat restoration activities on private and public lands that can be designed, developed, quantified and verified to meet domestic and international quality standards.
  • Undertake the necessary research and analysis to support the creation and sale of greenhouse gas offsets from blue carbon projects that will be recognized as quality offsets in international markets.

Through these activities, Vancouver Island University will increase its ability to respond to coastal community needs and meet the educational goals of its students. The Province will better understand the opportunity to combine community action on dealing with the impacts of a changing climate, climate change reduction and ecological improvement in coastal ecosystems.

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society will build local expertise and capacity, and restore valuable intertidal areas to the benefit of B.C. coastal and First Nations communities.


Environment Minister Terry Lake – “By leveraging blue carbon, we have the opportunity to reduce the risk of sea level rise and ocean acidification, and repair centuries of habitat destruction. Blue carbon also supports community-based efforts to create climate change solutions locally and will make possible cultural, economic and environmental benefits.”

MLA (Comox Valley) and Education Minister Don McRae – “Blue carbon is the point where ecological restoration, greenhouse gas reduction and climate change adaptation converge. With our unrivaled knowledge in ecosystem and climate change science, strong policies to drive investment in sequestration and a world-leading approach to dealing with the impacts of a changing climate, B.C. possesses the tools and expertise the world is looking for. The end result will hopefully be the creation of sustainable jobs in coastal areas of B.C. such as the Comox Valley.”

Dr. Ralph Nilson, president and vice-chancellor, Vancouver Island University – “Preservation and restoration of coastal marine ecosystems is essential to support the sustainability and quality of life in the coastal communities that Vancouver Island University is proud to serve. We are delighted to be a part of the research and restoration efforts that will not only have a positive local impact but potential global application in mitigating climate change.”

Paul Horgen, chair, Comox Valley Project Watershed Society – “Eelgrass meadows are disappearing from coastal estuaries as a result of pollution, habitat destruction and burial. Their loss is a loss of an important natural carbon sink. Restoration efforts have economic and climate adaptation benefits, and provide key wildlife habitat – a hat trick for the environment. We look forward to working with the Province and VIU to make the Comox Valley blue carbon project a local effort with international ramifications.”

(Left to right): Project Watershed’s Dr. Paul Horgen, Minister of Environment Hon. Terry Lake and VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson signed a three way Memorandum of Understanding between the University, Project Watershed and the BC Government (via, Ministry of Environment and the Climate Action Secretariat to work together to investigate “Blue Carbon” and its role of estuaries in sequestering carbon.

(Left to right): Project Watershed’s Dr. Paul Horgen, Minister of Environment Hon. Terry Lake and VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson signed a three way Memorandum of Understanding between the University, Project Watershed and the BC Government (via, Ministry of Environment and the Climate Action Secretariat to work together to investigate “Blue Carbon” and its role of estuaries in sequestering carbon.

Learn More:

  1. British Columbia Newsroom – Media Relations, Ministry of Environment, 250 953-3834
  2. Vancouver Island University – Don Tillapaugh, Director Centre for Shellfish Research at Don.Tillapaugh@viu.ca

Eelgrass Restoration

Project Watershed would like to thank our volunteers from Superstore, North Island College and around the Valley for their assistance with this important task and especially for doing it at 6:30 in the morning!

Our intrepid group of volunteers showed up at 6:30 in the morning and enthusiastically went to work carefully harvesting eelgrass from the healthy, natural bed on the south side of the Royston wrecks according to the instructions of the project leader, Cynthia Durance. Once they had collected the stems for transplanting, they then sat down to attach the washers to the plants with twist ties. This is an important step as the currents and tidal action mean that the plants cannot attach without some assistance. That assistance is provided by the washers, as well as by divers carefully inserting the washers into the sediment to ensure that the plant stays attached. The volunteers then bundled the eelgrass to make it easier for the divers to plant despite the current in that area.

Our volunteer divers, Cynthia Durance and Joyce McMenamon, then spent several hours carefully transplanting the eelgrass on the north side of the Royston wrecks. Our efforts were appreciated as when checked on a few days later the plants were full of little crabs enthusiastically feeding. Project Watershed would also like to thank Mountain Equipment Coop and Creekside Commons for providing the funding for this important restoration which provides a multitude of benefits by improving habitat for crabs, shellfish and other organisms, including salmon and herring, as well as sequestering carbon better than most plants on land.

Project Watershed and UBC Students Studying Blue Forests in the Estuary

On Saturday, January 21 around 11 PM to catch the lowest tide of the month, a team of Project Watershed volunteers and a group of Chemical and Biological engineering students from the University of British Columbia walked out onto the mud flats to obtain some samples of estuary sediment and eelgrass rhizomes.  This is part of a joint effort to measure carbon dioxide uptake by eelgrass first in simulated tanks at the UBC campus and then actual measurements of uptake in photosynthesis in the intertidal areas of our estuary.  Dr. Royann Petrell and five students from her advanced class in chemical and biological engineering laboratory techniques, as part of their program for students’ hands-on learning about community realities are working with a Comox Valley Stewardship group on these efforts.  The team was led out onto the estuary by Project Watershed’s Michele Jones, Dan Bowen and Dave Davies from DFO.

A major question facing residents of communities like the Comox Valley is how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  One approach is to establish strategies of conservation or use of renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.).  Another is to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere through living carbon storage.  Living carbon is more commonly known as the long-term storage of carbon in the tissues of trees and plants in forests.

A special opportunity exists for those of us who live in coastal communities.  Blue carbon is a form of living carbon that occurs in aquatic environments where aquatic plants such as eelgrass act to store carbon in the soils and sediments. Greenhouse gas reductions (of carbon dioxide) can be achieved through uptake by estuarine “Blue Forests” moving these greenhouse gases to estuaries and Deep Ocean (sediments).

Photograph Left to right Back row: Dave Davies (DFO), Dr Royann Petrell, Sylvain Alie, Dan Bowen, Ting-Ching Jerry Chou Front row: Tsung Han (Henry) Kue, Yan Zhang, David Eng, Heather Kempthorne, and Qing-Yuan Hebe He

The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, through its Estuary Working Group, has launched a pilot project to evaluate carbon storage by estuarine vegetation systems and to assess the effects of community based restoration efforts on eelgrass meadows and their abilities to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.  Recent reports indicate eelgrass can be as much as 90 times as effective as identical areas of coniferous forest in removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. This project represents a long -term effort and has a “win-win” outcome for both carbon sequestration and habitat improvement.

Loss of, and damage to, eelgrass has affected whole populations of fish, including threatened salmon and herring, water fowl, shellfish, and other animals.  Many animals use eelgrass meadows for nursery areas, others swim or walk among the leaves, or burrow in the sediments.  Within eelgrass meadows, there is food and shelter for a wide variety of creatures. Therefore eelgrass restoration efforts automatically improve habitat and biodiversity in addition to their potential to positively affect climate change.

Should you be interested in making a contribution to this project or to become involved as a volunteer in the future, please contact Project Watershed at 250-703-2871 or Email at <volunteer.projectwatershed@gmail.com><volunteer.projectwatershed@gmail.com>

Midnight Madness on the Mudflats

UBC Students -gathering sediment and Eelgrass. Photo by M. Jones

Students from UBC and volunteers from Project Watershed braved the dark mudflats of the Courtenay River estuary last night in order to gather sediment samples and eelgrass shoots for a UBC carbon sequestration research project.  The low tide was at 10:30 pm, so Michele Jones led the group out into the dark to a lower intertidal area. Sediments were gathered from two different depths using hand tools .  In addition, 500 eelgrass shoots were harvested. 


It’s a dirty job, but we got to do it!

Blue Carbon Pilot Project

Excerpt from ‘Ferry Man visits Comox Valley Regional District members in person’ article by Scott Stanfield – Comox Valley Record
Published: October 20, 2011 6:00 PM

A Blue Carbon Pilot Project would remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, decrease fossil fuel dependence and create jobs, Project Watershed chair Paul Horgen said in a presentation.

The proposal deals with blue carbon storage by estuaries. The project would assess the effects of restoration efforts on eelgrass beds and salt marsh riparian zones on CO2 removal over time.

“Hopefully you see this as a win-win situation,” Horgen said. “I believe we can do something very special in the Comox Valley.”

Blue carbon occurs in aquatic environments where plants such as eelgrasses and sedges store carbon in soils and sediments. A blue carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved through uptake by plants and sediments.

The society hopes to reap $100,000 from carbon offset funds.

The committee approved sending a letter to the province requesting local governments be allowed to invest carbon offset funds into blue carbon projects.


Courtenay River Estuary could hold ‘blue key’ to lock in carbon dioxide


The Courtenay River Estuary could hold a blue key that locks in carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere, Comox Valley Regional District directors heard on Tuesday.

Paul Horgen, chair of Project Watershed, said local governments would have to start paying money to the province in the form of ‘carbon offsets’ from next year.

But his group saw an opportunity to spend that money on estuary restoration work here.

He sought support for a pilot project to investigate the potential for ‘blue carbon’ capture through the extensive restoration of eel grass beds and sedges in salt marsh riparian zones.

Research elsewhere has suggested that such plants were 90 times more effective than trees in absorbing the gas.

The plants stored it, and when the died back – as they did several times a year – and the vegetation rotted into the mud, the absorbed carbon dioxide was locked away for good, and in the far distant future would eventually become coal.

Horgen hoped it would be possible to persuade the province to divert $100,000 of the carbon offset payments it would be receiving to fund a hands-on pilot project here in the local estuary.

That would not only measure the effectiveness of carbon capture, possibly providing a model for many other north American estuaries, but also see the extensive replanting of eel grasses and sedges employing young people in the process.

It was, he suggested, a win-win, because even if the intensity of capture could not proved – although he believed it would be – the replanting project would help restore the estuary to its former abundance with big salmon returning as they did in the 1950s.

Regional district directors liked the idea and are now recommending the full board supports the project.

They are proposing the province be asked if they will allow local governments to invest their carbon off-set payments in blue carbon projects, such as the Courtenay River Estuary pilot project, rather than just sending the money to Victoria for undetermined use.

They will also suggest the Union of British Columbia Municipalities take up the issue, as it could be relevant to many other coastal areas.


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