A Bolt from the Blue by Neil Daly

Could Western Port’s mangroves help to tackle climate change?

OUR community is fortunate to have a dedicated and expert team of environmental scientists and researchers studying Western Port’s environment and producing world-class research papers – but how much longer must this research go on before our federal politicians take notice? At least two local councils were represented at last month’s Western Port Environment Research Forum, perhaps indicating that at least at a grass roots level somebody is listening. If the response to one questioner is anything to go by, the community is now looking for somebody to come up with a Western Port management plan based on a practical application of the research now in place, and move on from the current haphazard management of possibly Victoria’s most important “blue wedge”.

But how this can be achieved is still a problem, for it would seem that unless governments can see an “economic or political return” for taking an interest in a subject, matters drag on … but the last speaker at the forum may have found the answer.

Associate Professor Peter Macreadie’s talk was about the Blue Carbon Lab based at Deakin University. The lab “specialises in capitalising on ‘blue carbon’, which refers to the powerful ability of coastal vegetated ecosystems to sequester carbon, and thereby help mitigate climate change”. It would seem Western Port has a role to play in implementing this program and it’s imperative that its saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrass meadows continue to be nurtured and expanded. A recent ABC TV 7:30 Report: “Push to protect blue carbon sites” illustrated this point.

From an economic perspective, Western Port could become an important part of the global carbon capture market, said to be worth $90 billion dollars or more. For while vegetated coastal ecosystems “occupy less than 1 per cent of the sea floor, these ecosystems hold onto around half the ocean’s carbon – and they can capture and store it up to 40 times faster than tropical rainforests.” Professor Macreadie also pointed out that “Even better for the long-term climate change game, blue carbon ecosystems can trap carbon in a watery grave for thousands of years – far longer than trees can manage. Australia has more blue carbon ecosystems than anywhere else in the world.”

To the best of my knowledge, no state or federal parliamentarian attended the Forum – what a pity for they too may have come to realise there is an economic benefit of delivering an environmental management plan for Western Port. For in addition to isolating carbon, “blue carbon ecosystems provide other important ecosystem services: they enhance biodiversity, support fisheries, and protect our shorelines against extreme weather events” – this must be worth something!

So it is hoped that each time our politicians “have a cuppa”, they come to realise they’re actually holding the world’s future in their hands, for the humble teabag is being used “as a cheap, standardised way of measuring the rate of carbon breakdown in soil” – some are already buried in Western Port, just waiting to reveal their message.

First published Bass Coast Post.