K’omoks Estuary at the Forefront of Blue Carbon Research

Something interesting is happening in our local waters.  Project Watershed, a local environmental stewardship organization, is working on a project to learn more about how salt marsh and eelgrass beds in our local Estuary contribute to the uptake and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, called Blue Carbon.

Better understanding is required to determine the economic value of estuarine habitat restoration in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored.   Any mechanism that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help offset human-caused carbon emissions.

In the K’omoks Estuary, both salt marsh and eelgrass beds capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in the underlying sediments.  These estuarine habitats are widely recognized as important habitat for marine creatures and for foreshore resilience.  However, before they can be valued additionally for the carbon they store, fundamental research is required to link the two.  This activity is being pursued by Project Watershed with funding provided by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) – The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an intergovernmental organization that supports the cooperative environmental agenda of Canada, Mexico and the United States to green North America’s economy, address climate change by promoting a low-carbon economy, and protect its environment and the health of its citizens.   Project Watershed is one of just three organizations in all of Canada that received funding.

Angela Spooner (graduate Student) and Russell Prentice (PICS summer student intern taking sediment cores

Angela Spooner (graduate student) and Russell Prentice (PICS summer student intern) taking sediment c

The goals of the project are to develop a protocol suitable for other community groups to assess carbon stores and rate of carbon sequestration in estuarine habitats.  In addition, Project Watershed aims to foster greater community involvement and understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of eelgrass and salt marsh restoration.

The fieldwork for this project commenced in May of this year and will continue through the summer of 2015.  Sediment cores will be collected and assessed for the amount of carbon in the different layers beneath the surface.  This information can be used to determine the rate at which carbon is accumulated and stored over time.  Comparisons are being made between sites with eelgrass or salt marsh vegetation and sites void of vegetation to determine if the sediments below vegetated sites store more carbon.

Ultimately, the goal is to place a dollar value on the amount of carbon stored in these estuarine habitats so governments with jurisdiction over the estuary can use these to reduce their carbon tax burden.  Paul Horgen, Project Watershed Board Chair, says, “The result is a 4-way win: a win for the estuarine environment and associated fauna; a win for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; a win for protecting foreshores from storm surges due to climate change; a win to governments required to pay carbon taxes.”

This type of work relies heavily on community involvement.  If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Paul Horgen, Head of the Blue Carbon Team (p.horgen@utoronto.ca) or phone Project Watershed at (250-703-2871).

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