October 28, 2021
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Farallones National Marine Sanctuary combats climate change with blue carbon

  • Phytoplankton contributes to blue carbon sequestration through photosynthesis. Photo Credit: NOAA

  • Bolinas Lagoon within Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is a locally important blue carbon salt marsh habitat. Photo Credit: Bob Lewis

October 8, 2021

Marine protected areas (MPAs), including national marine sanctuaries, safeguard important ecosystems for marine species. A new report, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), “Blue Carbon in Marine Protected Areas,” indicates that they can also help fight climate change.  

Greater Farallones Association (the Association) climate lead Sara Hutto, who also coordinates the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary’s (the Sanctuary) Climate Program, was the lead researcher and author on the joint report, which found that protected coastal and ocean habitats play a significant role in removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it indefinitely beneath the sea, helping to reduce the impacts from climate change. 

“These exciting new findings confirm that the Sanctuary protects habitats that act as carbon sinks, locking away carbon while maintaining a healthy and productive food web,” says Hutto. The Sanctuary includes 3,295 square miles of federally protected ocean along California's northern and central coast. 

Blue carbon refers to carbon captured by the world's ocean and coastal ecosystems. Blue carbon habitats and processes like salt marshes, seagrass beds, mangroves, kelp forests, plankton, and whale falls, mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or surface waters and transporting it into sediments or deep waters, where it can be stored indefinitely, as long as it’s not disturbed. MPAs protect blue carbon ecosystems that are essential for achieving global carbon mitigation and emission reduction goals. 

Maria Brown, Superintendent of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries, leads an international effort to better understand and protect blue carbon. “We are committed to ensuring blue carbon habitats and processes are protected; that we understand them and restore them,” says Superintendent Brown. The two sanctuaries protect more than 4,500 square miles of ocean off the shores of San Francisco. 

On behalf of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Hutto will present the findings of the “Blue Carbon in Marine Protected Areas” report at the International Blue Carbon Conference, November 11-12, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland, coinciding with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). 

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones Association are working to better understand the amount of carbon currently stored in the Sanctuary’s habitats and sediments, and the amount of carbon that is annually sequestered through various processes including through kelp growth and export to the deep sea, whale deadfalls, and plant growth and burial in coastal habitats.

The “Blue Carbon in Marine Protected Areas” report was supported by Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Tomberg Family Philanthropies.