Bolsa Chica and Blue Carbon
By Charles Falzon
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.
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.