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.


By Amanda Leinberger, NOAA Coastal Management Fellow with the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program and TCS Communications Subcommittee Member.

Editor’s Note: This article is also published on Marine Science Today as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration

Ecosystem-based Adaptation is good for communities and the environment as it promotes community engagement, restores natural habitats, and builds local resilience. The experience of a small island in the Caribbean is case in point.

Map of the Lesser Antilles. Photo credit: Google.

In the turquoise waters of the Eastern Caribbean Sea sits Grenada, a small island of about 105,000 people. The island is the southernmost of the Windward Islands and is located between Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the north and Trinidad and Tobago to the south. Due to its location, Grenada is prone to natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis. The country’s two largest cities, St. George’s and Grenville, are both located on the coast, and people depend heavily on agriculture and tourism for sources of income.

Coastal communities and marine resources on the island have already begun to experience the effects of climate change and are currently at risk from an increase in severe storm events, flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, drought, saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers, and degradation of coral reefs. High coastal population densities, development, and limited land space have made Grenada all the more vulnerable. Damage from events that included two hurricanes, various tropical storms, and multiple extreme rainfall events served as a catalyst for projects focused on disaster preparedness, coastal resilience, and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) to help protect communities at risk from future coastal hazards.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), adaptation can occur in physical, ecological, and human systems and “takes place through reducing vulnerability or enhancing resilience in response to climate change.” Adaptation activities include increasing community members’ knowledge and awareness about climate change effects to actually implementing adaptation strategies like creating a rain garden to help improve stormwater management.

EbA specifically focuses on “the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change (IUCN)” as opposed to hard strategies that sometimes work against natural processes, such as concrete seawalls. EbA, also known as nature-based adaptation or a soft adaptation strategy, consists of multiple co-benefits as it not only protects livelihoods and communities but also restores natural habitat, supports vital ecosystem services, and boosts economies by increasing tourism.

Photo credit: Tom McCann, The Nature Conservancy (found in National Geographic Ocean Views, 2014).

The At the Water’s Edge (AWE) project, a great example of EbA work in the Caribbean, promotes coastal resilience and aids local communities in Grenada in responding to coastal hazards. As part of AWE, a partnership was formed between The Nature Conservancy, the Grenada Red Cross Society, and the Grenada Fund for Conservation as well as other local partners to conduct a Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (VCA). Combining the strengths of these different organizations helped make the process not only nature-based, but community-based as well. The VCA focused on four communities in the Grenville area of Grenada on the east coast of the island: Marquis, Soubise, Grenville, and Telescope. Previous assessments of these sites showed them to be the most vulnerable areas in Grenada for various reasons including their location, dependence on marine resources for income, and damage caused by past extreme events and storms. These communities are situated just steps away from the ocean, leaving them more susceptible to future changes.

Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

The AWE project represents a holistic, community-based approach to adaptation and coastal management processes. For example, the project used participatory 3-dimensional mapping, which is a method of community based-mapping. The map depicts local knowledge and information like landmarks, houses, resources, and ecological features that would be difficult to express on a traditional or even a digitized map. Community members also attended various meetings and trainings as well as formed part of a community committee that was responsible for leading projects and making decisions.

Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

Under this same project, two main EbA approaches were implemented in the Telescope area: mangrove restoration along the shoreline and a pilot coral reef enhancement project off the coast. On an island like Grenada where mangroves occur naturally but have historically been cleared for development, replanting mangroves can bring back a wealth of benefits such as protection from waves, water filtration, and fish habitat. The reefs off the coast of Grenada have also been degraded due to climate change effects as well as land-based pollution sources. The reef enhancement project’s goal was to help with wave attenuation, meaning to
decrease the amount of wave energy reaching the shore thereby decreasing coastal erosion and the risk of damage during high tide and storm surge events.

Climate adaptation often elicits images of giant seawalls separating cities from the sea. Gray infrastructure projects like seawalls are expensive, and they can lead to negative ecological and social impacts like disruption of sand distribution, loss of beach, and elimination of natural habitat. EbA, or green responses, are more sustainable than traditional hard approaches in more ways than one. The work in Grenada demonstrates the importance of natural infrastructure and can serve as an example not only to other Caribbean islands, but to coastal communities around the world.


IUCN – Climate Change Adaptation

Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Climate Change