Quantifying blue carbon stocks and the role of protected areas to conserve coastal wetlands

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Science of the Total Environment


Vegetated coastal ecosystems, in particular mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses are highly efficient at sequestering and storing carbon, making them valuable assets for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The state of Queensland, in northeastern Australia, contains almost half of the total area of these blue carbon ecosystems in the country, yet there are few detailed regional or state-wide assessments of their total sedimentary organic carbon (SOC) stocks. We compiled existing SOC data and used boosted regression tree models to evaluate the influence of environmental variables in explaining the variability in SOC stocks, and to produce spatially explicit blue carbon estimates. The final models explained 75 % (for mangroves and tidal marshes) and 65 % (for seagrasses) of the variability in SOC stocks. Total SOC stocks in the state of Queensland were estimated at 569 ± 98 Tg C (173 ± 32 Tg C, 232 ± 50 Tg C, and 164 ± 16 Tg C from mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses, respectively). Regional predictions for each of Queensland's eleven Natural Resource Management regions revealed that 60 % of the state's SOC stocks occurred within three regions (Cape York, Torres Strait and Southern Gulf Natural Resource Management regions) due to a combination of high values of SOC stocks and large areas of coastal wetlands. Protected areas in Queensland play an important role in conserving SOC assets in Queensland's coastal wetlands. For example, ~19 Tg C within terrestrial protected areas, ~27 Tg C within marine protected areas and ~ 40 Tg C within areas of matters of State Environmental Significance. Using multi-decadal (1987–2020) mapped distributions of mangroves in Queensland; we found that mangrove area increased by approximately 30,000 ha from 1987 to 2020, which led to temporal fluctuations in mangrove plant and SOC stocks. We estimated that plant stocks decreased from ~45 Tg C in 1987 to ~34.2 Tg C in 2020, while SOC stocks remained relatively constant from ~107.9 Tg C in 1987 to 108.0 Tg C in 2020. Considering the level of current protection, emissions from mangrove deforestation are potentially very low; therefore, representing minor opportunities for mangrove blue carbon projects in the region. Our study provides much needed information on current trends in carbon stocks and their conservation in Queensland's coastal wetlands, while also contributing to guide future management actions, including blue carbon restoration projects.

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