Perspective: Increasing blue carbon around Antarctica is an ecosystem service of considerable societal and economic value worth protecting
New publication by Narissa Bax, Chester J. Sands, Brendan Gogarty et al.
Precautionary conservation and cooperative global governance are needed to protect Antarctic blue carbon: the world's largest increasing natural form of carbon storage with high sequestration potential. As patterns of ice loss around Antarctica become more uniform, there is an underlying increase in carbon capture-to-storage-to-sequestration on the seafloor. The amount of carbon captured per unit area is increasing and the area available to blue carbon is also increasing. Carbon sequestration could further increase under moderate (+1°C) ocean warming, contrary to decreasing global blue carbon stocks elsewhere. For example, in warmer waters, mangroves and seagrasses are in decline and benthic organisms are close to their physiological limits, so a 1°C increase in water temperature could push them above their thermal tolerance (e.g. bleaching of coral reefs). In contrast, on the basis of past change and current research, we expect that Antarctic blue carbon could increase by orders of magnitude. The Antarctic seafloor is biophysically unique and the site of carbon sequestration, the benthos, faces less anthropogenic disturbance than any other ocean continental shelf environment. This isolation imparts both vulnerability to change, and an avenue to conserve one of the world's last biodiversity refuges. In economic terms, the value of Antarctic blue carbon is estimated at between £0.65 and £1.76 billion (~2.27 billion USD) for sequestered carbon in the benthos around the continental shelf. To balance biodiversity protection against society's economic objectives, this paper builds on a proposal incentivising protection by building a ‘non-market framework’ via the 2015 Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This could be connected and coordinated through the Antarctic Treaty System to promote and motivate member states to value Antarctic blue carbon and maintain scientific integrity and conservation for the positive societal values ingrained in the Antarctic Treaty System.