Author Archives: Andrea Salazar

A Blue Solution for a Code Red Climate: Tangible and Concrete Ocean Action at COP26

By Student Delegate Heidi Johnson

Upon entering the oval office, President Biden returned the U.S. to the Paris Agreement and committed to reducing emissions while keeping “the 1.5-degree goal within reach.” The administration’s sense of urgency has increasingly escalated in the months since. Just last week, President Biden visited five states, including New York, New Jersey, Idaho, California, and Colorado, to survey the effects of climate change in those states. What he witnessed led him to declare a “code red” moment.

A code red moment is certainly warranted. Scientific research shows that as global average temperatures continue to rise, the planet is experiencing dangerous shifts in climate and weather. For instance, “oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea level is rising.”  A report also provides evidence that suggests a link between climate crisis intensity and violence against land and environment defenders.  Global Witness data confirm that last year was “the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.” Global Witness reported that 227 people were killed for defending land and the environment—the highest number ever recorded.  Further, all but one defender attacked was from the Global South.

Source: SeyCCAT.org

Amid the unrelenting global effects of our climate crisis, coastal wetland loss stands out. In the past century, about 50 percent of coastal wetlands have been lost due to coastal development, pollution, rising seas, and warming oceans. As a result of wetland loss, islands are losing vital ecosystems. Yet, nature-based solutions remain largely untapped. For instance, one potential nature-based solution is “blue carbon,” which refers to ocean biomass, including mangroves, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes. Blue carbon ecosystems play important roles in climate change mitigation and adaptation by offsetting carbon capacity, protecting communities, and promoting biodiversity. As understanding of these crucial ecosystems remains limited, wetland loss continues to accelerate.

This adverse climate crisis effect underscores the need for a heightened sense of urgency. In a recent White House briefing on the Biden administration’s climate policy, a senior official shared that the administration is “grateful to be working with the European Union and partner countries towards a collective global goal.” Even so, the official noted that the administration’s most significant challenge heading into COP26 is ensuring that all leaders come to COP26 not only with a greater sense of urgency “but with tangible and concrete actions to demonstrate what we’re doing to respond to that urgency.”

As the senior Biden administration official noted, COP26 leaders can demonstrate their commitments by enhancing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Indeed, the Seychelles’ 2021 NDC is exemplary. It incorporated blue carbon, dedicating an entire chapter to the matter, and it explicitly committed to send mangrove and seagrass data to the United Nations. In its NDC, Seychelles also committed to mapping and assessing blue carbon habitat capacity and to establishing a long-term monitoring program for seagrass and mangrove habitats by 2025. Seychelles aims to protect the benefits of blue carbon in its own waters while advancing the global understanding of blue carbon ecosystems. Hence, Seychelles’ NDC serves as a quality example of how COP26 leaders can commit to tangible and concrete actions that demonstrate an urgent blue response to a code red crisis.

Sources

  1. President Biden to Host Leader-Level Meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, the White House Briefing Room (Sept. 15, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/15/president-biden-to-host-leader-level-meeting-of-the-major-economies-forum-on-energy-and-climate/
  2. Readout of the Sixth National Climate Task Force Meeting, the White House Briefing Room (Sept. 15, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/15/readout-of-the-sixth-national-climate-task-force-meeting/
  3. Background Press Call on the Administration’s Climate Policy, the White House Briefing Room (Sept. 16, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/09/16/background-press-call-on-the-administrations-climate-policy/
  4. Readout of the Sixth National Climate Task Force Meeting, the White House Briefing Room (Sept. 15, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/15/readout-of-the-sixth-national-climate-task-force-meeting/
  5. Last Line of Defense, Global Witness (Sept. 13, 2021), https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/last-line-defence/
  6. Oceans Can Contribute to Biden Announcement of Bold Greenhouse Gas Reductions, Marine Conservation Institute (Apr. 22, 2021), https://marine-conservation.org/on-the-tide/president-biden-climate-goals-on-51st-earth-day/
  7. Impacts of Climate Change, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/climatechange-science/impacts-climate-change
  8. Seychelles’ Blue Carbon Journey, Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust, https://seyccat.org/seychelles-blue-carbon-journey/#the-ocean
  9. Seychelles’ NDC News, Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust, https://seyccat.org/ndctimeline/
  10. Seychelles’ Updated Nationally Determined Contribution, Republic of Seychelles (July 30, 2021), https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Seychelles%20First/Seychelles%20-%20NDC_Jul30th%202021%20_Final.pdf

 

Shucks: Why Communities Should Restore Oyster Populations

By Student Delegate Caroline Fullam

The intense impacts of climate change on coastal communities include coastal erosion, dying coral reefs (which protect communities from storm surges)[1], and dwindling fish populations that hurt the fishing industry.[2] One nature-based solution has helped address these impacts across the globe: oysters.

Photo from: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/habitat-conservation/oyster-reef-habitat

Oysters are referred to as “ecosystem engineers” because they attach to hard surfaces and other oysters to form oyster reefs.[3] These reefs help to develop and sustain a healthy

ecosystem by filtering water, providing a source of seafood; acting as a nursery for blue crabs, shrimp, bass, trout, flounder, and more; and helping protect the marine and land environment from storms.[4]

In Bangladesh, a study was done comparing three breakwater oyster reefs to control areas near Kutubdia Island.[5] The oyster reefs enhanced the adaptation capacities of shorelines by dissipating wave energy, reducing erosion rates, and increasing sediment deposition.[6] Significantly, the reefs also slowed salt marsh retreat during the monsoon season and then quickened saltmarsh seaward expansion in the winter.[7] The study’s findings show how oyster reefs reduce the impacts of storms on coastal communities as well as stabilize salt marshes, an important carbon sink.[8]

New York, through the Billion Oyster Project,[9] has restored 75 million oysters back into New York Harbor. The Billion Oyster Project partners with over 100 local schools to teach students about environmental issues and involve them in solutions.[10] Despite the pollution levels and strong currents in New York Harbor, the Billion Oyster Project restored oysters from near extinction in the region.[11] Growing oyster populations improve  water quality by filtering out excess nutrients such as nitrogen, which helps to increase water clarity, light penetration, and oxygen levels in the water.[12] These oyster reefs contribute significant ecological benefits, making them valuable even if they cannot be eaten.

Off the coast of Washington state, oysters in ocean farms eat local algae and fishermen have to contribute little to production.[13] Mussel farms in Maine, Long Island, Rhode Island, and California have recognized the regenerative capabilities of farming bi-valve shellfish as well.[14] Oysters and kelp are being integrated into the mussel farms to maximize the restorative impact these farms can have- a sharp contrast to other industrial fishing and aquaculture practices that place fertilizers in water or destroy marine ecosystems.[15] The mussel and oyster farms positively contribute to the marine ecosystem while providing fishermen jobs from a sustainable farm.

The vast ecologic and economic benefits of oysters led the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) to approve a pilot project studying the feasibility of establishing rock-oyster farms in Seychelles.[16] The project, expected to take two years, will ensure oyster farming is a solution that benefits the local community.[17] The effects oyster reefs and farms can have will vary amongst regions. The implementation of more feasibility studies can help to enhance recognition of the solutions oyster reefs and farms pose.

Restoring oyster populations has the potential to expand use of the blue economy and provide jobs, enhance climate adaptation capacities of coastal communities, and create healthier marine ecosystems.

We’ll be supporting Angelique Pouponneau at next week’s side event, “Climate action for shared prosperity through aquatic food systems: Eyes on SIDS and beyond,” which will be held in the Water and Climate Pavilion on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 from 1445-1545 Glasgow time. Hosted by WorldFish, IWMI, and FAO, Angelique will be speaking about innovative financing for climate resilience of aquatic food systems.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/coral-reefs-coastal-protection-flood-damage-2018-6

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WGIIAR5-Chap5_FINAL.pdf

[3] http://nrcsolutions.org/oyster-reefs/

[4] https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/habitat-conservation/oyster-reef-habitat

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44925-6

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html

[9] https://www.billionoysterproject.org/

[10] https://www.billionoysterproject.org/

[11] https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/new-york-city-restoring-oysters-lessons-learned-2019.pdf

[12] https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/new-york-city-restoring-oysters-lessons-learned-2019.pdf

[13] https://www.patagonia.com/stories/timber-to-tideline-hama-hama-oysters/story-33093.html

[14] https://www.patagoniaprovisions.com/blogs/stories/regenerative-ocean-farming-the-least-deadliest-catch

[15] https://www.patagoniaprovisions.com/blogs/stories/regenerative-ocean-farming-the-least-deadliest-catch

[16] https://seyccat.org/feasibility-study-to-determine-the-economic-viability-to-operate-a-rock-oyster-farm-for-commercial-purposes-in-seychelles/

[17] https://seyccat.org/feasibility-study-to-determine-the-economic-viability-to-operate-a-rock-oyster-farm-for-commercial-purposes-in-seychelles/

An Ocean of Sustainable Opportunity

By Student Delegate Caroline Fullam

Since 2015, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[1] have pushed for simultaneously equitable, economic and environmental improvements globally.  These conjunctive ambitions can be realized through the “blue economy,”[2] which refers to the sustainable use of the ocean and its resources to bring economic growth and protect marine ecosystems.

A common characteristic of Small Island Developing States[3] (SIDS) is their expansive Exclusive Economic Zones and marine territories relative to their land mass. When considering SDGs pertinent to Small Island Developing States, Goal 8- decent work and economic development- should not be left out.[4] The blue economy is an enormous opportunity to realize Goal 8 alongside other SDGs such as Goal 14- conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and marine resources- within Small Island Developing States. Otherwise, marine resources can be mismanaged, unsustainably used, or underutilized.

One way to boost the blue economy is supporting blue entrepreneurship. In Seychelles, a Small Island Developing State, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT)[5] is heading projects to bolster blue entrepreneurship through enhanced assessment and training[6], networking and mentorship opportunities, and grants and loans[7]. These projects help to not only enhance entrepreneurship opportunities by removing common obstacles, but also grow these new businesses in alignment with the principles of the blue economy to steward marine resources and address climate change.[8]

The strong, symbiotic bond between the ocean and climate requires blue economics to consider current and future climate change impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems.[9] The implications of climate change effects on the ocean could pose a threat to the future of all economic sectors related to the marine environment- including fisheries, aquaculture, trade, oil and gas, tourism, maritime transport, renewable energy (wind, wave, and tidal), marine biotechnology, and more.[10] Blue entrepreneurship forms businesses in consideration of changing environmental circumstances and natural resources across these sectors, which is why business building in the blue economy is seen as a strategy with long-term benefits.[11] Traditional economic practices of environmental and ecosystem degradation can overexploit finite resources without time for regeneration as well as exacerbate the negative ways a climate-impacted ocean will affect society.[12]

Small Island Developing States, aptly called Large Ocean States, are heavily reliant on the ocean’s resources.[13] Blue entrepreneurship provides SIDS communities the opportunity to sustainably manage and economically benefit from their most abundant resource; those economic benefits are more equitably shared by the inclusion of SIDS entrepreneurs. This mindful interaction allows for the longevity of economic and environmental benefits by recognizing the capacity of the ocean as well as the economic needs and innovative ideas of SIDS communities.

Blue entrepreneurship programs, such as the one conducted by SeyCCAT, aid in preparing ambitious individuals to actualize their economic endeavors in an environmentally responsible manner. SeyCCAT’s program to help blue entrepreneurs with financing, networking, government support, and more, allow for entrepreneurship in the Seychelles to be not only sustainable but successful in a changing climate.

[1] https://sdgs.un.org/goals

[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/06/06/blue-economy

[3] https://www.un.org/ohrlls/content/about-small-island-developing-states

[4] https://sdgs.un.org/topics/small-island-developing-states

[5] https://seyccat.org/

[6] https://seyccat.org/blue-economy-entrepreneurs-creating-smart-sustainable-and-shared-prosperity-through-entrepreneurship-ecosystem-assessment-and-training/

[7] https://seyccat.org/trial-and-nurture-business-models-to-secure-the-sustainable-development-of-seychelles-blue-economy/

[8]SeyCCAT, SeyCCAT Blue Economy Entrepreneurs, (October 2019),  https://seyccat.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SeyCCAT-Blue-Economy-Entrepreneurs_Findings-and-Analysis-November-Final-Report.pdf.

[9] World Bank Group, The Potential of the Blue Economy, viii, (2017)  https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/26843/115545.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[10] Id. at 13-14.

[11] See generally Id. 

[12] Id.

[13] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1772Ambassador%20Jumeau_EGM%20Oceans%20FINAL.pdf

Two Roads Diverged in a Blue-Green Wood: Supporting Mangrove Protection

By Student Delegate Mariah Harrod

The Seychelles’ updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) aims to preserve coastal marine environments for climate mitigation. The new NDC singled out mangrove forests for these protections and hinged its more ambitious targets upon international support.

Seven species of mangroves—of about eighty worldwide—grow in the Seychelles. Mangroves are trees or shrubs living in slow-moving, saline coastal waters with low-oxygen soil. They only grow in tropical and subtropical climates, putting a tremendous onus on developing countries (where most of these forests are found) to protect mangroves as their importance to climate action becomes internationally recognized.

Mangrove forests sequester between two and four times more carbon than tropical forests and up to fifty times more than terrestrial trees. Each tree can store about half a ton of CO2 in its lifetime. Yet the benefits of mangrove forests expand beyond the climate realm. Mangrove roots lock down sediment, stabilizing the coastline and preventing sediment pollution in water. This, in turn, protects coral reefs dependent upon low turbidity. Mangrove root systems also serve as a nursery for young animals by providing shelter from predators in the still, shallow water. Wildlife depends so heavily upon these areas that studies show that destroying mangrove habitat decreases local fish populations.

Humans rely on mangroves as well. Locals have long reaped the rich resources of these areas, collecting the timber, fish, and shellfish found there. Yet the riches of mangrove forests drive overexploitation, causing ecological degradation. Pressures mount on these tropical habitats where both poverty and population are concentrated and urban development expands. About 50% of mangrove forests worldwide have been destroyed over the last fifty years. As mangroves store large pools of carbon, their decomposition releases substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, contributing to the climate crisis.

Many locals in the Seychelles and elsewhere are now trying to restore these forests while still generating income. One Mahe community built a hotel with the express purpose of growing and preserving mangroves. The resort offers guided tours and kayaking alongside planting activities for locals as well as guests. Indeed, the current demand to protect wetlands has tightly knit these communities as nurturing and monitoring the mangroves depends heavily on local volunteers. With fishing and tourism remaining the main sectors of the Seychelles economy, mangrove restoration promises to keep money in the hands of locals and keep locals connected to each other and their environment.

As many nations continue to take lackluster climate action, the blue-green woods of mangrove forests symbolize a choice: do we take the muddy road leading to the preservation of coastal communities, or do we travel the well-trod path of business as usual? The Seychelles strives to take the former road to safeguard its future, and other countries can similarly strap on their gaiters.

Seagrass: A Blue-Green Investment in our Future

By Student Delegate Mariah Harrod

This past summer, the Government of Seychelles amended its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to set stronger safeguards for its coastal wetlands. The updated NDC sought protection and restoration for seagrass and mangroves, in particular, committing the archipelago to conserve 50% of these ecosystems by 2025 and 100% by 2030. To measure progress, the country will create a monitoring program and begin mapping seagrass reserves using satellites and field data. Notably, fulfilling these goals depends upon the small island nation’s ability to secure funding from other nations.

Seagrass is currently gaining increasing recognition for its carbon-sequestering ability. These nondescript, submerged plants grow along the coasts of nearly every continent and store carbon through their remarkably long roots. Though these plants compose of under 0.2% of ocean area, they account for 10% of the carbon drawn into the ocean floor and have twice the sequestering potential per hectare as a forest.

Seagrass provides additional ecosystem services beyond climate mitigation. Its extensive root network helps prevent coastal erosion—a constant threat for island nations already losing ground to sea level rise—and filters the water by trapping sediment. Its aboveground vegetation prevents flooding and buffers against waves from weather events worsened by climate change. Seagrass also furnishes habitat for sea turtles, fish, crabs, scallops, and dugongs. Several species that depend upon seagrass are endangered, further highlighting the critical role these plants play globally.

Importantly, the Seychellois people also rely on these ecosystems for economic opportunities. The wildlife inhabiting seagrass patches provide food security and financial support for local communities that may have few—or less desirable—economic opportunities. Compared to charismatic blue carbon plants like mangroves, underwater seagrass has limited ecotourism potential.

Despite the growing acclaim of seagrass in the climate context, these ecosystems continue to be extremely threatened. Some sources estimate that 35% of all seagrass meadows have been destroyed at a rate of about 1.5% per year. These impacts are largely attributed to water pollution from deforestation and dredging. Destruction of seagrass meadows not only removes valuable carbon sequestration—it triggers the release of large stores of buried carbon as the plants decompose. Recent studies indicate that the degradation of seagrass, mangrove, and salt marsh ecosystems produces emissions roughly equivalent to the emissions of the United Kingdom.

The wealth of its benefits—and dangers threatened by its loss—necessitate collective global action to protect seagrass meadows. The Seychelles has become a pioneer on this front, boldly setting ambitious standards for conserving these ecosystems. The nation’s mapping efforts and carbon assessment will lead to new technologies and strategies for combatting climate change globally. Accordingly, developed nations must financially support these projects: not just to extend an olive branch for our negative climate impacts to island nations, but as a blue-green investment for our own futures.

Sea Level Rise is Happening Now, and We Have Options

Aerial view of an island in the Maldives surrounded by the Indian Ocean.

By Student Delegate Isabella Smith

Reports about sea-level rise worldwide are quite grim. A study done by Cornell University estimates rising seas could result in two billion climate refugees by 2100. And this is not just a distant, future issue – it is already uprooting people around the world.

Most residents of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands have already relocated. In another island nation, the government of the Maldives purchased land in 2008 for the foreseeable relocation of its 350,000 residents. Still another example, the region where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers meet is home to 125 million people, and it is the most vulnerable region in the world to sea-level rise. People in this region have already started to flee to nearby cities like Dhaka, leading to deteriorating infrastructure and the emigration of wealthier citizens. Even in countries in the Global North, like the United States, Isle de Jean Charles residents are the first recipients of federal funding targeted to relocate the entire population due to rising sea levels and increased storm surges. The list continues on and on. However, there are actions that the global community can take right now to both mitigate and adapt to changing sea levels.

The most obvious solution is to meet or exceed the requirements of the Paris Agreement by keeping global temperatures under 2º Celsius. The more global temperatures rise, the more ice melts and seawater expands, leading to higher sea levels. Therefore, the lower the global temperatures, the lower the sea levels, the more land area and fewer climate refugees. If nation’s meet or exceed the promises of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) we can accomplish this goal. Additionally, considering many of the nations that contribute the least to climate change are the most affected, historically high emitters need to work diligently to meet the promises of their NDCs.

Another highly feasible, low-cost solution lies in green infrastructure. According to Conservation International, $94 trillion will be spent on infrastructure globally in the next 20 years. In the U.S. alone, the current gray infrastructure, such as concrete seawalls and jetties, needs $4.6 trillion worth of repairs by 2025.

Green infrastructure presents a perfect solution for these global needs that more effectively protects coastlines and mitigates sea level rise. Green infrastructure includes the revitalization of coastal wetlands, mangroves, marshes, and oyster reefs. Just fifteen feet of marsh can absorb up to 50% of incoming wave energy, while 330 feet of mangroves can reduce wave height by 66%. Living shorelines can serve as much needed carbon sinks and even improve water quality and aquatic habitat. Finally, green infrastructure is usually higher quality, more resilient, and more cost-effective.

The effects of global sea-level rise are inevitable. However, the global community still has significant viable options to mitigate impacts and protect coastlines.