Coastal News from the Field: Integrating Blue Carbon Considerations in Coastal Management

By Ellis Kalaidjian

Global interest in “blue carbon” ecosystems, referring to the world’s carbon-sequestering ocean and coastal habitats, is rooted in their potential to mitigate climate change while achieving myriad co-benefits, such as coastal protection and fisheries enhancement. A substantial body of research paints a grim outlook on the future of blue carbon ecosystems, which has prompted international efforts to protect and sustainably manage them. Yet, a paucity of research on blue carbon ecosystem management exists, which limits our understanding of how coastal plans can effectively integrate “blue carbon” concepts into municipal-level coastal ecosystem management. This month’s blog highlights a Philippines-based study that addresses this key research gap. The study, titled “Are Municipalities Ready for Integrating Blue Carbon Concepts?: Content Analysis of Coastal Management Plans in the Philippines”, is available through the Journal of Coastal Management.

Researchers conducted content analyses of existing coastal management plans of four Philippine municipalities: Lawaan and Salcedo in Eastern Samar province; Batan and Kalibo in Aklan province. Content analysis is a research tool that can be used to quantify and analyze the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within qualitative data—in the case of this study, the text of the management plans. Researchers used nine coding keywords, including “ecosystem services,” “carbon sequestration,” “tourism,” and “anthropogenic threats,” to determine the extent to which blue carbon ecosystems are accounted for in the provinces’ management schemes. Though several habitats fall under the category of blue carbon ecosystems, this study focused on the management of mangrove forests and seagrass habitats.

Mangrove forest in Bakhawan Eco-park, Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines (source: Paolobon140, 2013)

The research team presents important findings regarding the relative emphasis given to specific aspects of blue carbon ecosystem management and to specific ecosystem types. The study found that management activities—such as reforestation, coastal clean-ups, and planting—was the most frequently discussed topic in the four plans, followed by anthropogenic threats. In general, current directives toward resource management in the four provinces included assessment of coastal habitats, implementation of local ordinances and policies, and a list of possible conservation and protection services. Conversely, the topics of tourism and carbon sequestration—important co-benefits of blue carbon ecosystems—lacked visibility.

The researchers also discovered a greater focus on mangrove ecosystems than seagrass habitats across the four plans. The team attributed this discrepancy to the lack of research on seagrass ecosystems in the Philippines relative to mangrove ecosystems, as well as the greater emphasis placed on the coastal protection services of mangroves, given the country’s exposure to typhoons. While discussion of the anthropogenic and natural impacts to seagrasses is present in the plans, there were, generally, minimal actions set forth to address these stressors; meanwhile, mangrove ecosystems were significantly accounted for in legal frameworks, laws, policies, and local ordinances. To address this disconnect, the researchers recommend that Philippine national agencies should invest more in educational campaigns and capacity building for local government agencies and stakeholders to engage in seagrass habitat assessment, planning, protection, and monitoring.

This work highlights an existing gap in blue carbon management strategies at the local scale. By applying the content analysis approach to local management plans, this study offers a methodology to capture existing implementation of management protocols and provide appropriate recommendations for integrated coastal management practices. This study also serves as a basis for formulating coastal plans to effectively encapsulate blue carbon ecosystems and integrate them into existing management strategies. Moving forward, similar approaches as those presented in this work will be necessary to investigate the factors that facilitate best management practices and policies in different local contexts to strategically promote blue carbon ecosystem management beyond the scale of one nation.

Quevedo, J. M. D., Uchiyama, Y., Lukman, K. M., & Kohsaka, R. (2021). Are municipalities ready for integrating blue carbon concepts?: Content analysis of coastal management plans in the Philippines. Coastal Management, 1-22.

Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.