The Seychelles, classed as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), has a total landmass of 459 km2 yet an exclusive economic zone of 1.35 million km2. However, Seychelles has not yet included the CO2-offsetting capacity of ocean biomass in their assessments towards meeting their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce 29% of baseline GHG emissions by 2030. Known as Blue Carbon, this ocean biomass includes mangroves, seagrass meadows and salt marshes. These ecosystems can capture atmospheric CO2 30 to 50 times faster than terrestrial forests and, due to marine soil conditions, can be locked away for hundreds of thousands of years. As a result, they represent an important and often overlooked proportion of carbon offsetting capacity.
Identifying existing knowledge gaps is a vital step towards integrating Blue Carbon into national policy. A SeyCCAT-funded project, under the Blue Grants Fund and led by the James Michel Foundation, produced a literature review on Blue Carbon research in the Tropical Western Indian Ocean (TWIO). They identified three key research gaps that needed to be addressed. Firstly, the lack of blue carbon datasets from seagrass meadows, especially those assessing habitat distribution and quantifying belowground plant biomass. Secondly, the lack of assessments of soil carbon stocks in both mangroves and seagrass ecosystems, which is particularly important as most blue carbon is stored in the sediments. Lastly, a lack of soil accretion rate data, which is critically important to quantify annual carbon sequestration rates. They also found a major geographical gap of blue carbon datasets in SIDS when compared to the rest of the TWIO.
Filling in these Knowledge Gaps
The next stage is to begin filling these knowledge gaps. UNESCO has carried out a comprehensive Blue Carbon analysis for the Aldabra Atoll detailing not only the seagrass and mangrove areas but also estimates of the total organic carbon contained therein. They have determined there to be carbon assets of around 1 million megagrams in the Blue Carbon ecosystem of Aldabra. The SeyCCAT and Pew Trust’s coastal wetlands and climate change project seeks to continue filling the Seychelles knowledge gaps by undertaking a comprehensive mapping of seagrass and seagrass carbon stocks. They will be going beyond Aldabra, assessing the Inner and Outer islands including Desroches, D’arros and Amirantes Banks, Alphonse and St Francois Atoll, Farquhar, Astove and Cosmoledo.
With regards to mangroves, a project funded by the Swiofish3 Project and led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment, will be implemented to assess the distribution and carbon stocks for mangroves across the archipelago. The aim will be to create a single compilation and inventory of Seychelles’ mangrove data. Smaller-scale projects will also make contributions, like an ongoing project focussing on Praslin mangrove rehabilitation will produce maps of the local mangrove habitat.
SeyCCAT is leading the drive for integrating blue carbon into the Seychelles’ NDC for which filling these knowledge gaps is essential. The intention is to have both the mangrove and seagrass data be integrated into Seychelles’ climate communications to the United Nations with clear commitments to afford appropriate protection or management to the critical ecosystems. Going forward, Blue Carbon financing mechanisms must be explored. The SeyCCAT-funded project led by the James Michel Foundation will be defining a Blue Carbon roadmap to outline the opportunities for Seychelles. A tailored strategy is needed to map and quantify Blue Carbon opportunities and to develop a Blue Carbon market. Simultaneously, SeyCCAT is exploring non-market approaches to realise Blue Carbon financing opportunities. Such financing opportunities will go to support long-term monitoring of these blue carbon ecosystems and engaging local communities in its protection, management or rehabilitation.
Partners on blue carbon
With a multitude of partners, this interdisciplinary journey has seen policymakers, scientists, academics and educators and funders come together to increase the understanding of the blue carbon potential in Seychelles. The total investment in Seychelles’ blue carbon journey is approximately, US$ 1.5 million. The next steps are to institutionalise blue carbon within the country beyond multiple projects and consultancies to a strong blue carbon monitoring programme.