UNSW researchers guiding the future of blue carbon in Australia
Following decades of on-ground engineering experience creating intertidal wetlands, UNSW Sydney’s Professor Will Glamore, Dr Valentin Heimhuber and Dr Jamie Ruprecht of the UNSW Water Research Laboratory (WRL) led the hydrologic aspects of the Commonwealth Clean Energy Regulator’s ‘Blue Carbon Method’.
The method now permits low-lying wetland sites, where the tide has been introduced, to be eligible for Australian Carbon Credit Units. This is helping governments and industry achieve their carbon offset targets, while also creating economic incentives for landholders to convert their land to nature.
The history and value of wetlands
Globally, approximately 90% of wetlands have been destroyed since 1700 AD, with approximately 70% of these loses occurring since 1900 AD. Wetland degradation impacts the immediate site as well as the broader benefits that the wetland provides. These benefits are commonly called ‘ecosystem services’ and include water purification, flood mitigation, recreation, economic returns (from commercial fish, prawn and oyster species), natural capital, amenity, First Nation benefits, carbon storage, and many other services.
Over the past few decades, wetland values have been increasingly acknowledged. In recent years, the role of carbon in coastal wetlands has been recognised as a vitally important service in coastal wetlands. Due to a range of unique conditions, coastal wetlands can accumulate carbon at a rate equivalent to 20 times a terrestrial forest. Indeed, the IUCN states that while coastal habitats cover less than 2% of the total ocean area, they account for approximately 50% of the total carbon sequestered in ocean sediments. In recognition of the capacity for mangroves, saltmarsh and sea grasses wetlands to sequester large carbon volumes, these wetlands are commonly referred to as ‘blue carbon’ habitats.
Wetland research at UNSW
UNSW researchers have led the emerging field of wetland restoration, where land that was previously a wetland, but was drained for other land-uses, is ‘re-engineered’ into wetland habitat. This wetland ‘eco-engineering’ process has been championed by the EcoEng Research Group, led by Prof Will Glamore at WRL. In addition, researchers at UNSW have led the way towards understanding, mapping and quantifying the values of coastal wetlands.
In 2020, the Commonwealth’s Clean Energy Regulator commenced a process to develop a ‘Blue Carbon Method’ that formally accounts for carbon sequestered in intertidal habitats. The UNSW team explored two key parts of the blue carbon method: the amount of carbon that would accumulate onsite and how the tide could be safely restored to a large area. The method received Ministerial approval in the fourth quarter of 2021.
More details on the method can be found on the Clean Energy Regulator website.
For more information on blue carbon opportunities, please contact Prof Will Glamore on 02 8071 9868 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was updated on 1 February 2023.