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’).

Quantification and characterisation of blue soil carbon: a South Australian perspective

Miss Christina Asanopoulos1,2, Dr Lynne  Macdonald2,1, Dr Jeff Baldock2,1, A/Prof Timothy Cavagnaro1

1University of Adelaide, Glen Osmond, Australia, 2CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Glen Osmond, Australia

Blue carbon environments contain significant amounts of carbon in their above and below ground biomass and soils, the latter accounting for 46.9% of oceanic carbon stores. Frequent carbon inputs coupled with slow rates of soil organic matter decomposition results in long term carbon storage (i.e. millennia). The retention of carbon in the blue carbon environment is, however, a function of the chemical nature of the organic matter it is contained within.  Little is known about the chemical composition of the soil organic carbon (SOC) stored in the blue carbon environment. The objective of this study was to quantify the content and chemical composition of SOC stored in mangrove and tidal marsh surface soils. Surface soil samples were collected from nine blue carbon sites spanning the eastern coastline of Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf, South Australia. Organic carbon contents and chemical composition of mangrove and tidal marsh soils were quantified by dry combustion and solid state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.  Overall, mangrove and tidal marsh surface soils had similar carbon stocks but differed in chemical composition. We found that the organic carbon in mangrove soils exhibited a composition consistent with enhanced degradation relative to that in tidal marsh soils.  Our findings suggest different rates of decomposition for the two soil types and mangrove SOC to be more stable than tidal marsh SOC. Despite that, based on their chemical composition, the carbon stored in both soil types would be highly susceptible to rapid decomposition with environmental disturbances.


Christina Asanopoulos is an early career research scientist based at the University of Adelaide. In 2011, she successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in marine biology (hons) and commenced working at the CSIRO as a research assistant in the soil carbon and nitrogen cycling group. Christina’s research interests are in investigating the impacts of anthropogenic activity and climate induced change on natural ecosystems to improve their conservation. Since 2016 she has been undertaking a PhD affiliated with the University of Adelaide and CSIRO. The research focus of Christina’s PhD is the biogeochemistry of carbon in South Australia’s temperate coastal wetlands.

A blue carbon strategy for South Australia

Ms Louisa Perrin1, Mr Daniel Hanisch

1Department For Environment And Water, Adelaide, Australia

Coastal ecosystems provide a wide range of economic, environmental and livelihood benefits. Restoration and protection of these coastal systems enhance these benefits, improve resilience to climate change and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is an opportunity for South Australia to use the concept of blue carbon and associated access to carbon markets as incentives for protecting the coastal environment.

A Blue Carbon Strategy for South Australia has been developed by the Government of South Australia in partnership with the Premier’s Climate Change Council. The Strategy provides a roadmap to establish a state-wide program of blue carbon projects that preserve coastal ecosystems, supported by future carbon market financing.


Bio to come

Blue carbon dynamics during tidal restoration; results from a trial at the Dry Creek salt field

A/Prof. Luke Mosley1, Jason Quinn2, Prof. Sabine Dittmann3

1University Of Adelaide, , , 2Department for Environment and Water, , , 3Flinders University, ,

Achieving carbon sequestration benefits during tidal wetland restoration is an emerging area of importance in relation to climate change mitigation and carbon market opportunities. Coastal (“blue”) carbon dynamics during a tidal restoration trial in a 38 ha pond at the Dry Creek salt field are described. The aim of the trial was to restore suitable geochemical conditions for recovery of coastal ecosystems, and assess carbon sequestration. Installation of four tidal pipes and gates reconnected the pond to the tidal creek in July 2017. During the trial, measurements of the organic carbon stock in soil and vegetation, and greenhouse gas fluxes, were undertaken for the purposes of carbon accounting using the Verified Carbon Standard (VM033). The investigations showed a net gain of soil organic carbon stock following tidal re-connection, which could be partly attributed to influx of seagrass wrack. Methane gas fluxes were negligible, and could be excluded from further carbon stock assessments. Sediment accumulation rates were highly variable across the strata and between the trial pond and reference areas. Saltmarsh vegetation rapidly colonised the pond following tidal re-connection. The organic carbon fraction for saltmarsh and above and below ground vegetation biomass showed that while greatest carbon capture will be in mangrove, saltmarsh can also be a further important contributor. The potential to generate carbon sequestration benefits and credits during larger-scale coastal restoration activities is discussed.


Associate Professor Luke Mosley is a researcher in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide. Luke had a passion for the sea and coastlines from an early age and gained his PhD from the University of Otago (New Zealand) on the aquatic geochemistry of estuaries and catchments. Luke worked as principal scientist for South Australia’s Environment Protection Authority for over 10 years. Luke is also Deputy Director of the Acid Sulfate Soil Centre at the University of Adelaide, President of Soil Science Australia, and a long term member of the Scientific Advisory Group for the Coorong and Lower Lakes.

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