President's Tern
Bolsa Chica and Blue Carbon
By Charles Falzon

Blue CarbonDaryth Morrisey, member of Amigos
Board of Directors and middle school
science teacher, participated in the
Climate Solutions Conference with
posters created by her students
illustrating how wetlands sequester
carbon. Photo by Daryth Morrisey.
One of the more interesting things relevant to Bolsa Chica to have come out of the Climate Solutions Conference is the importance wetlands play in sequestering carbon. The Amigos have been teaching for years that wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth in terms of photosynthesis. It should, therefore, be no surprise that coastal wetlands like the Bolsa Chica excel in carbon storage. Tidal flushing that saturates the uniquely adapted “jungles” of salt marsh plants inhibits microbial breakdown of plant debris, trapping it in the soil. Scientists call this blue carbon, which is simply the term for carbon captured in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Amigos Naturalists learn in their training that Bolsa Chica is a detritus-based ecosystem, which means the dead and decaying plants drive the regeneration of salt marsh life cycles. The root systems of salt marsh plants collect the detritus and other sediment and hold the carbon in place. The detritus trapped in the mud can be thousands of years old and many feet thick. Scientists estimate that tidal marshes, seagrasses and coastal mangroves store massive amounts of carbon. When they are disturbed, the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere and further accelerates climate change. It is critical to keep salt marsh carbon sequestered.

While salt marshes cover much smaller areas than temperate or tropical forests, they can sequester carbon at a much faster rate. Not unlike California’s loss of coastal wetlands to urban development, 50% of mangroves forests have been lost to development. With massive root systems, mangrove forests sequester carbon in ways very similar to coastal salt marshes. While phytoplankton play a role in the cycling carbon and creating oxygen, its life cycle is short and the carbon is not stored. Kelp forests also cycle carbon, but they lack root systems to hold the carbon in place.

As we Amigos know, the preservation of all coastal ecosystems strengthens biodiversity, fisheries, tourism and storm protection. But their role in sequestering carbon and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions is taking a well-deserved spotlight. This adds to the urgency of Amigos’ mission to keep the restored Bolsa Chica functioning as intended, and to see that the future full tidal areas are restored sooner than later. Once it’s gone, we won’t get it back.