Seaweed a model solution for fighting climate change

THUWAL, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 07, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Seaweed, as its unfortunate name suggests, can be a nuisance. It makes a mess of beautiful beaches. It bobs up and down in the waves in an unsightly blob. And it sticks to unsuspecting swimmers as they try to enjoy a dip. But despite its reputation with some ocean goers, seaweed just might be one of the most powerful tools we have to save the planet from manmade climate change while providing a path to realizing many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Researchers from KAUST and Aarhus University believe seaweed is a model solution to climate change, biodiversity loss, joblessness, hunger and environmental damage. In a paper published in Nature Sustainability the co–authors outline how the cultivation and use of seaweed as a carbon capture technology, a job and tax revenue generator, and a food source, can help protect and restore our planet.

"Our research consolidates seaweed farming as an underpinning of a sustainable future," Professor Carlos Duarte, study lead author said. "It is scalable, with a 2,000–fold increase potential, it generates valuable products while also contributing to carbon sequestration below the farm, it produces sustainable fuels, and it displaces carbon–intensive products, thereby providing a range of contributions to climate action. While growing at sea, seaweed forms an ecosystem that delivers multiple benefits to the marine environment."

The cultivation and use of seaweed, the authors believe, will directly support six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and indirectly support several others. Achieving zero hunger, supporting good health, making clean energy affordable, as well as supporting industrial innovation, climate action, and ocean conservation, are all outcomes of cultivating seaweed. Not only is the plant climate positive, profitable, and edible, but it promises to feed and employ millions while preserving the planet and fostering poverty reduction and gender equality.

"Seaweed provides wonderful materials for a range of applications, grounded in their amazing diversity, as seaweed are as far apart from a genomic perspective as mushrooms and elephants. This genomic diversity provides a phenomenal source of new materials across a range of industries, from food, to fuels and plastics," Duarte said.

The pitch, as much as there is one, is that seaweed cultivation must be ramped up significantly. This, of course, might encounter roadblocks in legislatures around the world as western regulations, where seaweed farming is just starting, are quite unwelcoming to seaweed aquaculture. The paper outlines in broad terms the objections that could be raised and addresses them in turn.

"Because seaweed farming is a new industry in western nations, existing regulatory frameworks do not facilitate its development. In some nations it is easier to get a concession for marine oil and gas extraction than for a seaweed farm. Creating a friendlier regulatory environment that encourages, rather than deter, seaweed farming will be critical to delivering on its potential."

"Currently, seaweed farming occupies about 2,000 Km2 of land, compared to about 60 million Km2 land food producing systems occupy. We consider that about 4 million Km2 of ocean can support seaweed aquaculture while delivering positive impacts on the marine environment. In the rump–up to COP26, we consider that scaling seaweed farming can be a wedge of a regenerative approach to our oceans, delivering climate action while alleviating hunger and poverty," Duarte said.

Professor Dorte Krause–Jensen from Aarhus University adds that sustainability standards and consideration of the carrying capacity for seaweed farming need be in place to avoid potential unattended negative consequences the farming.

"The utilisation of seaweed in a cascading biorefinery extracting biomolecules sequentially, offers a path to maximise the value of the biomass and render seaweed farming profitable, even in Western countries where costs are higher" said senior researcher Annette Bruhn of Aarhus University. "Promoting sustainable seaweed cultivation as an emission capture and utilisation technology supporting the circular bioeconomy, calls for a cross–sectorial approach to solving societal challenges. We need a disruption of the traditional way of thinking climate, environment and resource provision in each their sector and we need partnerships between science, industry and authorities".

About KAUST

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) advances science and technology through distinctive and collaborative research integrated with graduate education. Located on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia, KAUST conducts curiosity–driven and goal–oriented research to address global challenges related to food, water, energy, and the environment.

Established in 2009, KAUST is a catalyst for innovation, economic development and social prosperity in Saudi Arabia and the world. The University currently educates and trains master's and doctoral students, supported by an academic community of faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and research scientists. With over 100 nationalities working and living at KAUST, the University brings together people and ideas from all over the world.

To learn more visit kaust.edu.sa.

About Aarhus

Aarhus University has been achieving excellence in research and education since 1928. Being a top 100 university with more than 50 Masters and Bachelors educations in English, Aarhus University is a leading globally oriented university with a strong engagement in the solving the societal challenges on local and global scale.

Department of Bioscience provide teaching, research and consultancy in all aspects of life; from bacteria to whales, from genes to ecosystems and from fundamental research to applied biology in nature management and biotechnology.

To learn more visit https://international.au.dk/

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/5141687d–2aea–43e1–bddc–623aab93621f


Mangrove Blue Carbon for Climate Change Mitigation

Mangroves could be the silver bullet needed to mitigate climate change, however, approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

By Joyce Chimbi
NAIROBI, Oct 7 2021 – Smelly, boggy, and full of bugs, mangroves’ superpowers are well hidden. However, there is rising confidence that mangroves are the silver bullet to combat the effects of climate change.

“Mangrove ecosystems are a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals and can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Dr Sevvandi Jayakody, a senior lecturer at Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

Mangrove forests also act as a natural defence against storm surges, including mitigating the effects of cyclones and tsunamis, says Dr Nicholas Hardman‑Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Within this context, he says, Commonwealth countries are working together under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement made by all 54 member states, to actively work together to tackle ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

The Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group consists of 13 countries, including Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom, is championed by Sri Lanka.

Mangrove blue carbon could bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts, experts say. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Hardman‑Mountford tells IPS that countries exchange knowledge centred on mangrove protection, management, and sustainability within the action group. Shared knowledge includes a wide range of topics, including policy, legislation, and regulatory frameworks.

Leveraging on the protective power of mangroves, Jayakody says that Sri Lanka is actively building its second line of defence. The country’s first line of defence, the reefs, were heavily compromised by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – one of the worst disasters in modern history, killing nearly 230 000 people across dozens of countries.

Such was the devastation that the government of Sri Lanka estimated losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output.

Worse still, approximately 35 000 people died or went missing. In Sri Lanka alone, property damage included 110 000 houses, of which 70 000 were destroyed. In all, at least 250 000 families lost their means of support.

Experts say that mangroves have immense capacity to prevent such catastrophes and combat other devastating effects of climate change.

Bolstered by growing scientific evidence, Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation, has made significant strides in building its defence using mangroves.

Dr Rahanna Juman, Acting Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, tells IPS that in 2014, the government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned an aerial survey of the country. Using this data, an estimate of carbon in mangrove forests across the country was ascertained.

“This information illustrated how mangrove and other hardwood forests could offset emissions and was incorporated into the Greenhouse Gas inventory of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, the survey conclusively demonstrated that mangrove forests store more carbon per hectare than other hardwood forests,” Juman expounds.

In 2020, the Institute of Marine Affairs received funding from the British High Commission to fund a mangrove soil carbon assessment project involving Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Juman indicates that the assessment found that “the amount of carbon in the mangrove soil was many times larger than the amount of carbon above the ground. This is an assessment that could be replicated in other Commonwealth countries because we have developed a low-cost technique of undertaking this important assessment.”

Adding that Mangroves are starting to be incorporated into the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which means countries could potentially earn money from protecting and restoring mangroves.

Meanwhile, Hardman‑Mountford cites various challenges in exploring blue carbon because it is still an evolving area of science and policy.

Sri Lanka understands this challenge all too well. After the Tsunami, Jayakody says that the government launched vast mangrove restoration projects covering over 2 000 hectares in partnership with other agencies.

Due to limited information on mangroves, she tells IPS that a majority of these projects failed. Undeterred and leveraging on scientific research over the years, Sri Lanka is today a success story in restoring and conserving mangrove cover estimated at 19 600 hectares.

Other challenges facing countries keen on mangrove blue carbon include a lack of protection for mangroves because approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited.

Over the years, Jayakody indicates that mangroves have been at a very high risk of destruction because their power to prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities through fisheries was not fully understood.

Hardman‑Mountford agrees, adding that mangrove forests have declined globally with a loss of between 30 to 50 percent over the past 50 years from over-harvesting, pollution, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal development.

The Commonwealth has a huge role to play in reversing this decline.

Overall, there are 47 Commonwealth countries with a coastline.

“Nearly 90 percent of Commonwealth countries with a coast have mangroves, and at least 38 of these countries with mangroves have provided some level of protection to their mangroves. In all, 16 countries have protected about half or more of their mangroves,” he says.

This is a challenge that Sri Lanka is successfully overcoming. With an estimated 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka living along the coastline, Jayakody says that there was an urgent need to protect both livelihoods and coastlines from further degradation.

“In 2015, Sri Lanka established the National Mangrove Expert Committee, and through that, all mangroves were mapped. More so, several new areas were brought under protection, and there have been relentless efforts to improve the communities’ understanding of the importance of mangrove ecosystem,” she says.

Further, Sri Lanka recently validated the Best Practice Guidelines on the Restoration of Mangroves in Sri Lanka and the national mangrove action plan, in line with the mangrove policy adopted in 2020.

Other countries making strides in the right direction include the Australian government’s involvement with blue carbon and especially ongoing efforts to build capacity in blue carbon science, policy and economics through multi-sectoral partnerships.

“To support its efforts in blue carbon advocacy and outreach, the Australian government launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) at the UNFCCC CoP in Paris in 2015,” says Ms Heidi Prislan, a Blue Charter Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Australia is also one of the 28 countries that refer specifically to the mitigation benefits of carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In comparison, 59 other countries mention coastal ecosystems as part of their adaptation strategies.

To increase opportunities for blue carbon to participate in the national emissions reduction scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Australian government has supported research into potential mitigation methodologies that could be implemented to generate carbon credits from domestic projects.

Equally important, she says that Commonwealth member countries have collectively made 44 national commitments to protect or restore mangroves.

As the world stares at a catastrophe from the devastating effects of climate change, the massive potential of blue carbon and, more so, mangrove blue carbon to bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts can no longer be ignored.

 


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