Last month, experts and government officials from across Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Panama City for the 2023 Latin America & Caribbean Climate Week. And one of the most important events was the Workshop on Coastal Wetlands and Blue Carbon hosted by Pew Trust. The event highlighted the immense potential for coastal wetlands like mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration while also building resilience against rising seas and stronger storms.
However, speakers at the workshop also warned of the grave threats these ecosystems face from development, pollution and climate change itself. Up to 1,400 square miles of coastal wetlands in the region are lost each year. Protecting what remains and restoring degraded areas is crucial for both climate action and economic livelihoods that depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.
Coastal wetlands are some of the most carbon-rich habitats on Earth. Mangroves in particular can sequester up to four times more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests. Most of this “blue carbon” is stored in the soil below ground. When disturbed, it can be released into the atmosphere as planet-warming carbon dioxide.
According to Carlos Guerra Sosa of Panama’s Ministry of Environment, mangroves cover up to 856 Mg of carbon per hectare. But when cleared for development, they can switch from carbon sinks to major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Other threats like pollution, invasive species and sea level rise also degrade mangroves’ natural ability to trap and store carbon.
Workshop presenters highlighted some positive steps countries are taking to protect and restore coastal wetlands:
Presenters noted significant knowledge and data gaps in some countries, especially around Caribbean coastal ecosystems. Additionally, many nations lack the technical capacity and resources for comprehensive monitoring and mapping. In future, developing regional platforms to standardize data and monitoring methodologies will be important to help countries showcase the climate value of coastal wetlands in their national reporting and climate commitments.
The workshop highlighted the enormous potential for coastal wetlands to mitigate climate change and build resilience through nature-based solutions. But time is running short to safeguard these fragile ecosystems that support both local economies and global climate stability. Participants agreed on the urgent need to scale up protection and restoration efforts across the region. This will require attracting investment, replicating successful policies, addressing knowledge gaps, and engaging effectively local communities. Bold vision, policy innovation and inclusive action can drive climate progress across Latin America and the Caribbean, preserving not only the environment but also the livelihoods and well-being of the people who depend on these ecosystems. Blue carbon has the potential to become an umbrella concept to bring together different interests and stakeholders, catalyzing a holistic approach to climate resilience and environmental stewardship in the region and beyond.
ITACA Solutions is a technical services provider focused on implementing climate adaptation in coastal areas in the Caribbean. Sign up to our mailing list to receive our newsletter with updates about our work, publications, activities and events.