Blue carbon refers to carbon dioxide stored in coastal wetlands including mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes. Activities around it provide environmental, economic and social benefits for local communities and the world at large.

The Queensland Blue Carbon Program explores Queensland’s Blue Carbon potential, including mapping of Blue Carbon stocks and sequestration rates. It is a multi-sector research and development collaboration amongst academia, project developers and industry, which examines opportunities for Blue Carbon additionally in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) catchment. 

The main activities of the program include:

  • Inventory of QLD Blue Carbon Stocks and sequestration rates. 
  • Analyzing drivers of Blue Carbon sequestration in QLD catchments.
  • Creating spatial heatmaps of sites suitable for Blue Carbon additionality.
  • Developing predictive models of Blue Carbon under different management scenarios.

In this article, GRT evaluates different aspects of the Queensland Blue Carbon Program. These include the program background, opportunities and where to act and drivers for the distribution of Blue Carbon in the coastal wetlands of the GBR. 

Program background

Blue carbon ecosystems are among the most efficient carbon sinks, however these ecosystems are declining globally. Because of their ability to capture CO2, there is an increasing recognition of their role in climate change mitigation, and consequently, a growing demand to incorporate blue carbon into natural greenhouse gas accounts.

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Deakin’s Blue Carbon Lab will help put Queensland at the forefront of international efforts to incorporate coastal carbon within CO2 mitigation strategies, thereby helping to mitigate climate change while also improving other ecosystem services:

  • water quality. 
  • enhancing natural capital. 
  • contributing to jobs, economic growth and community wellbeing. 

Opportunities for Blue Carbon in Queensland and where to act

These are some of the opportunities for blue carbon in QLD and where to act: 

  • Mangrove forests and seagrass meadows within the GBR catchments hold a blue carbon stock of over 111 million tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of ~87 million cars.
  • These ecosystems would sequester ~251 million tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2100.
  • Six Local Government Areas hold almost 70% of all the blue carbon in the Great Barrier Reef catchments. The top six blue carbon hotspots include the Cook Shire, Livingstone Shire, Gladstone Regional, Burdekin Shire, Isaac Regional and Whitsunday Regional.
  • If considering the Natural Resource Management (NRM) regions, Cape York and Fitzroy regions hold more than 60% (~130 million tonnes of carbon) of the predicted carbon stocks.

What drives the distribution of Blue Carbon in the coastal wetlands within GBR catchments?

Datasets from soil carbon sampled across mangrove forests and seagrass meadows were used to model soil carbon stocks in the GBR catchments. The information was combined with data on seventeen biophysical and anthropogenic predictors known to influence carbon distribution in coastal wetland to understand what drives the variability in blue carbon soil stocks and create a heat map of blue carbon soil stocks within the GBR catchments. 

The findings were as follows:

  • Final combination of variables explained 78% and 51% of the variation in soil organic carbon stocks in mangrove forests and seagrass meadows across the GBR catchments.
  • Climatic variable such as temperature, rainfall and solar radiation showed a strong contribution in accounting for variation in soil carbon in mangrove forests.
  • Annual average temperatures showed a positive relationship with soil carbon stocks up to 23.8 °C where there was a decrease in soil carbon stock followed by a dramatic increase at 26 °C. 
  • Rainfall was also positively related to soil carbon up to around 200mm followed by another peak at around 300 m.
  • Solar radiation displayed a negative relationship with soil carbon stocks.
  • Soil carbon stocks from terrestrial ecosystems were also influential with a negative relationship with soil carbon stocks in mangrove forests. 
  • Variable response in the variation of soil carbon in mangrove forests, which corresponded to the complexity of the processes associated with human-related activities.
  • Overall tendency of decrease in carbon stocks as distance to the estuary increases.
  • Elevation also influenced soil carbon in mangrove forests with soil carbon increasing at higher elevations. 

In conclusion

Queensland’s Blue Carbon Program builds QLD’s Blue Carbon future and expands carbon farming through development of a new Blue Carbon market. In our next article, GRT will evaluate the importance of erosion control in the carbon cycle and show how its work on erosion control could generate carbon credits under programs such as the Queensland Blue Carbon Program. 

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