Blue Carbon Futures (BCF) – is a Global Challenges project investigating mangrove blue carbon restoration, conservation, and management to offset carbon emissions.

Mangrove forests sequester atmospheric carbon in living biomass, including leaves, branches and roots. This biomass accumulates in wetland soils over time, and due to regular inundation by saline tides, its release back to the atmosphere is significantly reduced, resulting in the development of a carbon sink.

Destruction of these ecosystems can release the carbon stored in mangrove biomass and soils back in to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane. It also limits the delivery of other ecosystem services provided by mangrove, such as acting as a buffer against storms, provision of wildlife habitat for fish and waterbirds, and cycling of nutrients from nearshore and estuarine waters.

Blue Carbon Futures (BCF) is a complex project which requires an interdisciplinary approach, and draws on the expertise of researchers in blue carbon biophysical science, law and policy, social and cultural context, as well as accounting and finance. 

Mekong Delta Beginnings  
The seed phase of the BCF project began in 2013 when funding from the first round of the Global Challenges grants enabled a group of researchers (led by Prof. Robin Warner from ANCORS), to investigate the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. This river has extensive areas of mangrove forest that provide multiple benefits to local communities, the most important of which being the provision of fish habitat and subsequent sustenance for communities and timber for housing. The team included Dr Kerrylee Rogers and Professor Colin Woodroffe from the School of Earth and Environmental Science, Associate Professor Mary Kaidonis from the Faculty of Business and three PhD students (now graduates), Dr Thang Nguyen, Dr Olivia Dun and Dr Yubing Shi.

The team initially set out to investigate the social and environmental processes contributing to the decline of mangrove in Vietnam, and scope the capacity to reverse this trend.

“Reversing this trend is particularly complex and requires interdisciplinary knowledge,” says Dr Rogers.

“We investigated biophysical factors essential for mangrove growth and productivity, cultural connections to mangrove forests and willingness of local communities to protect and manage mangrove resources, and the effectiveness of international and domestic law and policy in facilitating the increase in blue carbon storage by mangrove.”

Particular emphasis was also given to the use of economic incentives provided to local communities for managing and restoring mangrove forests. Key outcomes of the seed phase of the project included research exchange amongst the team with potential partners in Vietnam and multiple end-users in Australia, emerging opportunities with IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature), and International Social Science Council, and a field trip to the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam in January 2015. 

“This trip and regular meetings of the team expanded the networks of all the researchers with national and international blue carbon and coastal zone management researchers. We delivered conference presentations and with additional support from UOW Global Challenges program hosted the 1st Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network Meeting at UOW in February 2015. This conference brought together researchers from Australia and around the world to discuss opportunities for ‘working with nature’ to improve ecosystem outcomes,” says Prof. Warner.

Another key research output of the project was an interdisciplinary article Opportunities and challenges for mangrove carbon sequestration in the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam by all members of the team, published in a special issue of the journal Sustainability Science in July 2016 (Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 661–677). 

Funding expands the project scope
Blue Carbon Futures is now led by Dr Kerrylee Rogers (an environmental scientist and ARC Future Fellow in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health) and boosted by extra researchers including Dr Jenny Atchison from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Associate Professor Quentin Hanich of ANCORS. The project received further funding from the Global Challenges program in 2015 and has expanded its focus to examine the potential for mangrove carbon sequestration in Australia and Brazil from an interdisciplinary perspective.  

The ongoing aim of the project team is to continue interdisciplinary research into the challenges and opportunities for mangrove carbon sequestration in different spatial and socio-economic settings globally including Australia, Brazil, Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific nations.

Longer term research objectives include developing a robust scientific methodology for verifying carbon sequestration by mangrove, the application of that methodology in global carbon markets and voluntary carbon offset schemes.    

“We are ultimately aiming to achieve a more in depth understanding of the biophysical, cultural, social, political and legal enablers for and barriers to carbon sequestration by mangroves,” says Dr Rogers.