Carbon-sucking mud lures climate investors


Knee-deep in the mud, blue carbon protector Peter Macreadie extracts a sample from the marsh below the towering mangroves of Cairns Tidal Wetlands.

Muddy bubbles burst, clusters of mosquitoes and button orchids hang from stilt-like trunks while crocodiles lurk in front among the stockier regenerating shrubbery of Trinity Inlet.

“It may look like mud to you,” says the director of Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab.

“But it’s blue carbon right there.”

Mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses are actually blue carbon ecosystems. They act as a natural “sink”, which sucks up atmospheric carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change.

They are also a natural barrier against erosion, high tides and vicious waves raised by cyclones.

While more than two-thirds of the world’s coastal wetlands have been destroyed, including around Australia, areas degraded by nutrient runoff, drained for sugar cane plantations or trampled by livestock can be rehabilitated.

Take Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk Precinct. Located in a development area belonging to Cairns Airport, it is of immense cultural and biodiversity value to the traditional owners.

After the local council scrapped the project, Indigenous Landguards and Mariners repaired it and it will reopen to the public in July.

“This environment here is where land and sea come together,” says Gavin Singleton of the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation.

It runs the initiative in partnership with Cairns Airport and Blue Carbon Lab.

“It’s all connected,” he says.

“Our stories tell us how we live in harmony with the land around us, how we protect, especially our well-being, as we harvest, take country and give back to this system.”

Along with his team at Yirrganydji Land and Sea Rangers, he says the project is all about sustainability for the future – for land, water and people.

“It’s exciting for all of us to learn what carbon storage is here in our country, but also what it can teach us for our future and what it can teach us about sustainability.”

Walking around the area, Cairns Airport environmental manager Lucy Friend explains that there are 19 species of mangroves, but they are often overlooked by holidaymakers who come to see the rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s obviously important for the reef, for the river systems, culturally and for our local community,” she says.

Blue carbon projects can benefit biodiversity, but companies are also looking for projects to satisfy climate-conscious customers, offset emissions, and build a new reputation in a net-zero economy.

Mapping of Cairns Harbor and Trinity Inlet by the Queensland Government has identified nearly 1,700 species, including the illusory Yirrkoo (water mouse), bats, snakes, eels, pythons and sharks , insects, vulnerable plants, hundreds of birds ranging from flying wagtails to worthy herons, lizards, crabs, frogs and mushrooms.

The entrance is the largest saltwater lagoon in the southern hemisphere

But the 774-hectare East Trinity Environmental Reserve, just opposite the entrance to Cairns CBD and the airport, still bears the scars of more than a century of sugarcane cultivation.

Damage reached catastrophic levels in the 1970s when concrete walls were built to block the tides and the area was drained and leveled, leading to the death of fish and the death of mangroves as the soils oxidized and produce acid.

Some 3,000 tonnes of sulfuric acid seep into the inlet each year, says Professor Macreadie.

The state government bought the site in 2000 and started a long-term remediation program to protect the cove and reef.

Ranger William Mundraby remembers walking through the mangroves as a child.

“We didn’t worry about the crocodiles,” he says. “We couldn’t see them.”

By the time he was 10 they were getting ‘rusty’ and dying, but now 50 he sees the area turning green as years of remediation work takes hold.

Fragmented stories and knowledge also come together, on both sides of the bay.

“A lot of our people don’t get the same education. We used to live far from the elders, but the younger generation lives near them and they have more knowledge than me,” Mr Mundraby said.

“We don’t know all of our stories from our people until we start sharing with each other.”

But Australia’s carbon credit scheme does not apply to existing projects, so the global success of the driveway repair cannot earn them.

Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) apply to new projects, using approved methods that now include blue carbon after years of intense work by scientists.

The separate airport promenade project is also not eligible for ACCUs, as the ecosystem is already in full swing.

But the projects provide a model for others that could win credits in the future, including the wetlands around Avalon Airport in Victoria, which are expected to attract funds soon.

Australia has more blue carbon stored than any other country, says Prof Macreadie.

The seagrass beds of the barrier reef alone harbor about 11% of the blue carbon in the world’s seagrass beds.

But a massive “carbon bomb” could be unleashed by the development of areas that ignorant planners of the past considered worthless swampland.

The rangers are among those who make sure this does not happen in Cairns.

South Australia is also a world leader in blue carbon, with seagrass beds restored to help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Blue carbon ecosystems can store carbon up to 50 times faster than forests, making them an important potential solution to deadly climate change.

Investment funds and corporations including beverage giant Lion, Qantas, ANZ and HSBC understand the opportunity to offset emissions and achieve amazing examples of biodiversity repair.

BHP on Thursday launched a $3 million grant scheme, developed with Australian investment and climate consultancy firm Pollination, to fund blue carbon projects.

But Australia may also need to rethink its isolated carbon market, which does not allow international trading of credits.

European carbon markets are growing and attracting the green dollar. Companies build portfolios and earn credits around the world.

Carbon offset provider Tasman Environmental Markets (TEM) sees projects in Asia-Pacific as an important way for Australian companies to reduce emissions, as the new federal government reviews international policy.

Rebuilding relationships is another benefit.

Announcing a new blue carbon project in PNG’s Manus province at a Carbon Market Institute summit in Cairns, TEM boss Adrian Enright said community and biodiversity benefits were becoming a much bigger concern. important for offset buyers.

He says the initiative is a “stepping stone” that shows Australia’s commitment to its neighbors as they try to mitigate the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, Pollination listed Microsoft earlier this year as a buyer of the first three million carbon credits that will be generated by the world’s largest mangrove restoration project in Sindh, Pakistan.

The Delta Blue Carbon Project covers 350,000 hectares of tidal wetlands and will sequester approximately 142 million tonnes of carbon over its 60-year lifespan.

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