11 July 2024

Building Blue Carbon ecosystems should become an integral part of national mitigation and carbon sink plans, said Assistant Professor Thon Thamrong-Nawasawat of the Faculty of Fisheries, Kasetsart University.

Research findings indicate that Blue Carbon has a larger capacity to capture and store carbon dioxide than forests, yet it is only in the last 4 or 5 years that it has captured real attention in Thailand. Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems and stored in the form of biomass and sediments from mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses.

Asst. Prof. Thon has been exploring seagrasses in Thailand since 1984. With his steady perseverance in research work and experiments, he is gaining greater interest and support from public and private organizations for a seagrass restoration project. Studies show that cooperation from communities and suitable ecosystems in the area are required to plant seagrass successfully.

Now, the Faculty of Fisheries, Kasetsart University is collaborating with various big businesses, among them Bangchak, PTT Exploration and Production, and Singha Estate, as well as Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Public Organization), the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization, and local administration organizations to initiate a feasibility study in seagrass plantations and restoration in the pilot areas of Koh Man in Rayong, Koh Mak and Koh Kradat in Trat, and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Samui and Koh Tan in Surat Thani.

In a laboratory at the Faculty of Fisheries, Asst. Prof. Thon has been successful in seagrass transplantation to accelerate expansion of seagrass restoration both from seeds and tissue culture. However, the project is still in the stage of scientific experimentation and researchers are waiting to find out the survival rates after planting it in the pilot sites.

“We plan to analyze Blue Carbon data from seagrasses along coral reefs, working with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and local people and collaborating with specialists abroad such as universities in Japan. We hope that this study into using seagrasses to generate carbon credits will be critical in helping Thailand reduce greenhouse gases by capturing Blue Carbon in ecosystems effectively and objectively in the future.”

The biodiversity of seagrass beds has changed significantly because of socio-economic development activities including construction on the shore, urban intrusion, fisheries and degradation of mangroves. When degraded or destroyed, these coastal ecosystems emit the carbon they have stored for centuries into the atmosphere and sea and become sources of greenhouse gases.

“Though the government supports collaborative efforts with a roadmap to have carbon neutrality in 2050 and net zero GHG emissions in or before 2065 as committed to at the UN Climate Change Conference, it will be difficult to achieve the goals if we don’t have protection and restoration strategies for blue carbon ecosystems to help capture and store carbon dioxide,” said Asst. Prof. Thon.

Government agencies should recognize the importance of blue carbon ecosystems and use it as carbon credit for climate change mitigation and adaptation, protection of biodiversity and threatened species, disaster risk reduction and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Fortunately, the situation today is encouraging government agencies, private companies, academia and local parties to pay more attention to the restoration of seagrass beds. In September this year, Dow Thailand Group together with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and the International Union for Conservation of Nature organized the Blue Carbon Conference 2022 for the first time in Thailand. The participants stressed the need for more effective blue carbon preservation in the belief that carbon storage capacity could be nearly ten times higher than that of terrestrial ecosystems.

Asst. Prof. Thon added that tropical forests are commonly thought of as carbon-absorbing biological systems and have given rise to many reforestation projects, but the forest is not sufficient to capture and store carbon. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology from abroad is still in the trial phase and not for commercial use. It is also expensive.

In addition to conducting the feasibility study for the seagrass plantation and restoration, he is providing knowledge to scale up and amplify understanding of blue carbon, and to accelerate action on the important role on coastal blue carbon ecosystems. They have larger carbon absorption capacities than forests but are often the least discussed natural carbon sinks.

Currently, more and more countries are realizing the potential of blue carbon. Indonesia and Singapore are carrying out joint research on carbon captured and stored by coastal and marine ecosystems. Amazon and Conservation International recently announced they will be establishing an International Blue Carbon Institute, which will be located in Singapore.

The institute will work with governments across Southeast Asia and the Pacific to integrate the use of blue carbon into policies for mitigating climate change, and expand education for policymakers and communities on blue carbon projects.

By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Patcharee Luenguthai