Protecting seagrass through carbon trading: resources for policy makers, project developers and communities

Protecting seagrass through carbon trading: resources for policy makers, project developers and communities

Image: Dimitris Poursanidis,

Blue carbon ecosystems – mangroves, seagrass and saltmarsh – have been at the forefront of natural climate solutions in recent years. Public awareness of their existence and importance has skyrocketed, and their role in fighting climate change is increasingly recognised by scientists, natural resource managers and the public.

These ecosystems store massive volumes of carbon, locking atmospheric CO2 into the carbon-rich soils for centuries or even millennia. But they can only do that if they are protected from degradation and destruction. ACES have been at the forefront of pioneering mangrove conservation through carbon trading since 2013. But seagrass is a relative newcomer to the carbon world, despite the benefits it brings to coastal communities and to the climate.

Image: Dimitris Poursanidis,

In 2019, we began a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as Edinburgh Napier University and Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), to explore the opportunities and challenges for communities looking to protect seagrass meadows through carbon trading and other Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) frameworks.

Policy document
We produced a document for policy makers, outlining the opportunities that community-based seagrass conservation offers and the challenges that communities face when trying to protect these vital ecosystem services. We outline policy recommendations that we see as necessary to enable community-based management of seagrass meadows under PES.

Community guide
We also produced a community guide to protecting seagrass through PES. This guide translates more technical guidance for seagrass carbon and management, as well as drawing on our own experiences of running community-based mangrove conservation projects in Kenya, into an accessible document intended for use by community groups worldwide.

The community guide outlines the opportunities and challenges of running blue carbon projects, as well as signposting the steps that communities should take when planning and operating a project.

(c) Dimitris Poursanidis

Protecting the seagrass meadows of Gazi Bay

Finally, we incorporated seagrass conservation into our pioneering Mikoko Pamoja project in Gazi Bay, Kenya. We have been working with Plan Vivo as our certifying body to incorporate seagrass into the formal Project Design Document (PDD) under a ‘carbon-plus’ model.

Given the current barriers to fully accrediting seagrass under a community-led model, we are combining our seagrass conservation with our fully accredited mangrove carbon credits to enable the seagrass meadows to be protected as an “added benefit”.This means that the rigorous monitoring of carbon required for our mangrove carbon will not be needed for seagrass, but instead we will follow a citizen science monitoring protocol to report on seagrass coverage in the bay, and with Plan Vivo’s approval, offer mangrove credit buyers the option of seagrass carbon as a “bolt on” to their mangrove credits. This is the world’s first example of seagrass being incorporated into a certified blue carbon project, and we’re excited to be pioneering this alongside our partners. More information can be found in our Project Design Document.

Webinar on community-based seagrass conservation

In August 2020, ACES joined The Nature Conservancy (TNC), UNEP, KKMFRI and Edinburgh Napier University in presenting our research into how communities can protect seagrass meadows through carbon trading and other PES frameworks, as well as our work on the ground to do just that in Gazi Bay. The webinar is available to watch here.

This work was made possible by UNEP under a Small-Scale Funding Agreement which was generous funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).