NOAA Study on Living Shorelines in North Carolina

A recent NOAA study, published in the journal PLOS One, shows “living shorelines” – protected and stabilized shorelines using natural materials such as plants, sand, and rock – can help to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, helping to blunt the effects of climate change.

This study, the first of its kind, measured carbon storing, or “carbon sequestration,” in the coastal wetlands and the narrow, fringing marshes of living shorelines in North Carolina.

Shoreline management techniques like this can help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while increasing coastal resilience,” said Russell Callender, Ph.D., acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Carbon can be stored or “sequestered” in plants when they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. The carbon sequestered and subsequently stored in coastal wetland sediments is known as “coastal blue carbon.” Acre for acre, salt marsh meadows can store two to three times as much carbon of the course of a year as mature tropical forests.

NOAA has supported blue carbon policy and science efforts for several years, with a growing interest in creating and managing coastal wetlands as carbon sinks. NOAA recently announced guidance on the use of verified carbon standards for the creation and restoration of coastal wetlands.

The 124 living shorelines in North Carolina store enough carbon to offset 64 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – the pollution equivalent of burning 7,500 gallons of gasoline. Conversion of even 10 percent of North Carolina’s 850 miles of shoreline to living shoreline would result in an additional annual carbon dioxide benefit of 870 metric tons – the pollution equivalent of using more than 100,000 gallons of gasoline.

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