Blue Carbon and a Green Future in a Baja Whale Lagoon

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The southern reaches of Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California Sur, Mexico, may be one of the easiest places on the peninsula to get lost or hopelessly stuck. Located west of the jutting escarpments, layered peaks and hidden canyons of the Sierra de Guadalupe are treacherous sand dunes, salt flats and mud of a no-man’s land. Surfers have been passing over these dusty tracks southward to San Juanico or Scorpion Bay for decades.

“Take the wrong turn and you end up on a salt flat filled with mud so thick that even walking is difficult,” I wrote in my book Saving the Gray Whale back in 2000. In the early 1990s, my wife Emily and I spent a few months living there while carrying out research on gray whale conservation. We got stuck in the Lagoon’s southern salt flats plenty of times!

Today, the gray whale lagoon is part of the 6.2 million-acre federally protected El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This isolated and wild region is ground zero for an ambitious and innovative effort to help sequester, or remove from the atmosphere, carbon via mangroves, the aquatic plants that line the wetlands and embayments of the central and southern Baja California peninsula.

Mangroves are a type of blue carbon ecosystem that sequester atmospheric carbon at a rate five times faster than terrestrial forests, while also storing up to 50 times more carbon. They are of special interest today as we work to reverse the impacts of the past 100 years of releasing excess carbon into the atmosphere. Our coastal ecosystems are incredibly efficient at removing harmful amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and can store it for thousands of years, making these areas key in the fight against climate change.

“It is imperative that we not only reduce emissions globally, we also must conserve and restore the natural ecosystems that help us sequester carbon. In the case of mangroves, these ecosystems protect shorelines against rising seas levels and dangerous chubasco storm surges as well as sequester carbon,” shares Tannia Frausto a conservationist with WILDCOAST. WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change with natural solutions of which I am the Executive Director.

With the support of SeaTrees, WILDCOAST is working with women in Laguna San Ignacio to plant 40,000 mangroves over 25 acres of tidal zones, creating a habitat suitable for fish, shellfish, wildlife, and adapting to and mitigating climate change. “Mujeres de El Dátil” are trained in mangrove environmental services, seedlings collection and planting techniques, as well as monitoring and maintenance of restored sites. Once this restoration phase is completed, WILDCOAST will expand its efforts by planting 40,000 additional seedlings and conducting monitoring of restored sites in 2022 and 2023 with the generous support of Sempra Energy and other partners.

“Our collective efforts in the Lagoon provide a clear model for how we can work at the local and global level to address climate change through natural solutions,” shared Frausto.

Through legal protection and management, WILDCOAST has helped to conserve 38,336 acres of mangrove forests that store 3.5 million tons of carbon, equivalent to the emissions of 2.8 million cars driven in one year. As Frausto points out, it is a natural solution to tackling climate change – a piece of the puzzle we can all put together now before it is too late.

www.wildcoast.org

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Esteban Villanueva
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