Blue carbon in South Australian coastal ecosystems

Dr Alice Jones1, Prof Paul Lavery2, Prof Michelle Waycott1, Dr Oscar Serrano2, Anna Lafratta2, Prof Pere Masque2, Sam Gaylard3, Dr Milena Fernandes5, Dr Jeff Baldock4, Christina Asanopoulos6, Assoc. Prof Tim Cavagnaro6, Prof Bronwyn Gillanders1

1University Of Adelaide, School Of Biological Sciences, Adelaide, Australia, 2Edith Cowan University, Centre for Marine Ecosystem Research, Joondalup, Australia, 3EPA South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, 4CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Glen Osmond, Australia, 5SA Water, Adelaide, Australia, 6University Of Adelaide, School Of Agriculture Food and Wine, Glen Osmond, Australia

Seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh ecosystems take-up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trap organic matter in their roots. The carbon stored in these ecosystems is called ‘blue carbon’ and is predominantly stored below ground in the sediment, with a smaller proportion stored in the vegetation. Blue carbon ecosystems can take up carbon at faster rates and store it for longer periods than many terrestrial forests; making them an important carbon ‘sink’, and a useful tool in combatting climate change. However, there are a lack of data on blue carbon in South Australia. Our project has assessed the blue carbon sink in SA and studied the impacts of degradation and restoration on blue carbon sequestration and storage. We found that, on average, SA mangroves and saltmarshes take up and store more than twice as much carbon per hectare as seagrasses. However, because seagrasses cover a large area in our coastal waters, they contain most of the State’s blue carbon (80 – 90 %). The state’s total blue carbon stock is equal to 5 – 10 years’ worth of SA greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The additional carbon taken up by these ecosystems each year can offset over 3 % of the state’s annual GHG emissions. We found that human impacts on coastal ecosystems cause measurable reductions in blue carbon. Outputs from our research provide a South Australian context for blue carbon, have highlighted some key knowledge gaps and have been used in the development of the State Blue Carbon Strategy.


I am a marine ecologist working at the University of Adelaide. My research is focused on the effect that human activities and environmental change have on the distribution of species, populations and ecosystems – and the impact that this has for their survival and ability to provide ecosystem services. I undertake applied research that has real-world application through providing information that improves our understanding of, and ability to manage and protect, species and habitats. I have recently completed a 2-year collaborative project on carbon sequestration and storage in South Australian coastal ecosystems (‘blue carbon’).

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