The protection and restoration of North Carolina’s coastal habitats can sequester carbon and contribute significantly to both ecosystem and community resilience. These habitats include coastal wetlands, swamp and tidal forests, seagrass, and vegetated shorelines. Although much smaller in total area than upland forests, coastal wetlands sequester carbon at a faster rate. However, these ecosystems also emit greenhouse gasses when they deteriorate, making conservation important.

Because many factors — such as wetland type, site salinity, and tidal inundation — can influence carbon sequestration rates, research about carbon storage potential is ongoing. Based on estimates for carbon storage and sequestration by salt marsh and seagrass from Duke’s Nicholas Institute with help from the Coastal Habitats Committee, North Carolina’s salt marshes currently store about 61 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and seagrasses store another 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The benefits of restoring and protecting coastal habitats include defending property and infrastructure from sea level rise and storm surge, improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitat and food, marsh migration corridors, seafood production, game hunting and recreational fishing, and maintaining ecosystem health and biodiversity.

The Coastal Habitats Committee of the Natural and Working Lands Stakeholder Group is composed of representatives from state and federal government, conservation organizations, and universities. Some examples of projects that implement recommendations from the NC Natural and Working Lands Action Plan are:

Researchers at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University have updated and extended the coastal habitat projections and blue carbon estimates originally assessed for the Natural and Working Lands Action Plan. They added projections of seagrass loss due to sea level rise (increased water depth), and carbon estimates now include a more complete picture of carbon sequestration and emissions from habitats such as forests and freshwater wetlands in the transition area (low-lying coastal area that may convert to salt marsh due to sea level rise).

Maps have been developed showing existing and projected coastal blue carbon habitats (salt marshes and seagrasses) and other habitats in the transition area, and state-level estimates of carbon sequestration and emissions in the coastal area over the next 100 years, with and without sea level rise effects on habitats.

Contact for more information: Katie Warnell and Lydia Olander, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

  • Greenhouse Gas Inventories for Coastal Habitats: Submerged Aquatic Vegetation and Coastal Wetlands

Members of the Coastal Habitats Committee are working together to Develop greenhouse gas inventories for seagrass (also known as submerged aquatic vegetation) and coastal wetlands for the NC Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Inventories will cover roughly 190,000 acres of seagrass and more acres of palustrine and estuarine wetlands, as defined in the NC Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP). The project will also include documentation of the methodology as a guide/tool for estimating the greenhouse gas impact of seagrass and coastal wetlands protection and restoration projects.

Contact for more information: Paul Cough APNEP Leadership Council, Carolyn Currin NOAA, Jacob Boyd NC Division of Marine Fisheries

Cherry Point Marine base and NC Coastal Federation, along with the NC Land and Water Fund, Duke University, and the PEW Foundation are working together to establish a living shoreline for coastal protection and habitat enhancement and develop a best practices report. The 2,100-foot living shoreline is one of several projects constructed by the NC Coastal Federation to help reduce coastal erosion and increase resilience.

Contact for more information: NC Coastal Federation, Lydia Olander, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

North Carolina Coastal Reserves, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and North Carolina Sea Grant are partnering to offer a new training course aimed at increasing expertise with living shoreline construction practices among marine contractors, engineers, environmental consultants, and regulators. This course focuses on living shoreline design for typical structures in residential settings along North Carolina’s estuarine shorelines. The training combines three online classroom sessions with on-the-ground field training. More information about the training is located here.

Contact for more information: Whitney Jenkins NC Coastal Reserves