- What comes to mind when you read the word "rewilding?"
- Marine Ecosystem Rewilding: The Power of Our Oceans
- Methods of Carbon Rewilding
- Sequestration Abilities
- A Benefit to Our Economy
- Meeting Our Paris Agreement Targets
- Increased Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
- Less Conflict
- The Issue: A Deep Dive Into Our Big Blue
- 4 Steps to Support Marine Ecosystem Rewilding Projects
- Step 1: Urge your local MPs to scale ocean rewilding for blue carbon and biodiversity
- Step 2: Reach out to a local marine ecosystem rewilding project
- Step 3: Partake in protests that demand stopping marine environment destruction
- Step 4: Spread the Word
- The Future of Marine Ecosystem Rewilding
Rewilding our land has many clear benefits, however, lesser-known marine rewilding may provide even more. Is this the key to reaching our carbon neutrality targets?
What comes to mind when you read the word "rewilding?"
A country overgrown with flora? Bears and wolves, casually roaming our uncultivated spaces once again? Or maybe an image of a rewilded community, partly clothed and feral?
Terrestrial ecosystem rewilding has received a lot of attention among environmental communities over the past few years due to its powerful abilities to:
- Sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere
- Reverse biodiversity loss
- Support wildlife in its adaptation to climate change
- Provide economic opportunities among communities
... However, land-based rewilding isn’t the only form we have.
In fact, there’s an option that arguably holds more potential for climate and environmental recovery and restoration, from a source that covers 71% of our planet’s surface: our oceans.
Marine Ecosystem Rewilding: The Power of Our Oceans
While protecting and restoring marine ecosystems comes with many clear benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, coastal protection, and increased fish stocks and species, its ability to store carbon has been overshadowed by its land-based kin, forests.
However, in the UK alone, some 500,000 km2 of shelf seas are estimated to store 205 million tonnes of carbon, which is roughly 50 million tonnes more than what all of the UK’s standing forests can hold.
This long-term carbon storage solution via seaweeds, seabed sediments, salt marshes, and seagrass beds is called blue carbon.
And guess what?
This blue carbon rewilding process can bring our planet into an ecological state of equilibrium in a few ways.
Methods of Carbon Rewilding
As mentioned above, the carbon storage abilities of blue carbon far surpass the benefits of terrestrial rewilding processes. In fact, the UK’s seagrass and salt marsh beds sequestration abilities are predicted to hold a carbon storage equivalent of 1,000 - 2,000 km2 of tropical forests.
The vast array of ecosystems - from mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, to individual species such as whales, invertebrates and seaweed - can absorb CO2 just like our rainforest ecosystems.
Just three of the UK's three blue carbon habitats – mudflats, salt marshes, and sands – are estimated to trap somewhere between "10.5 and 60.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year", as stated by the Office for National Statistics.
This makes terrestrial habitats’ total CO2 sequestration of 28 million tonnes per year seem second-rate.
A Benefit to Our Economy
By solely focusing on the UK’s three blue carbon systems, the amount of CO2 removed could provide an asset value of between £742 million and £4.259 billion.
Not only that, but encouraging more rewilding projects by coastal communities can generate new business opportunities and income for locals and the community at large, building on the exciting concept of a nature-based economy.
Take action now
Do you want to have a direct impact on climate change? Sir David Attenborough said the best thing we can do is to rewild the planet. So we run reforestation and rewilding programs across the globe to restore wild ecosystems and capture carbon.Get involved
Meeting Our Paris Agreement Targets
It’s no secret countries are lagging (way) behind on our Paris Agreement targets. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2021 Austrian World Summit says it all.
However, arguably, part of this lag isn't because we don't care, but because of how our brains work.
As seen in a Harvard Business Review article, research on construal level theory suggests humans consider things or ideas that are psychologically distant from them in an abstract manner. For instance, when climate change-induced weather disasters happen in faraway places, most people treat it as an abstract concept – which is less motivating than specific or present situations.
However, for coastal communities, marine life and coastal degradation is a real and present threat. By helping communities rewild their aquatic ecosystems, we're not only empowering communities to take charge of their future, but to mitigate 1.83 billion tonnes of CO2 through rewilded marine ecosystems – 5% of the emissions savings we must make on a global level.
Increased Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Marine ecosystem rewilding can also regenerate a range of ecosystem services such as:
- Providing oxygen for the planet
- Removing water pollutants
- Protecting coastal towns and communities from inevitable rising sea levels
- Encourage rewilded ecosystems that act as nurseries for fish species that can be sustainably fished and consumed by locals
- Provide wildlife havens
- Serve as carbon storage (in massive quantities)
Seaweeds, in particular, are incredibly powerful when it comes to enhanced biodiversity and ecosystem services. Kelp, the largest seaweed, is a total powerhouse.
This large, brown seaweed creates magical underwater forests offering fish habitats while cleaning the water and sequestering carbon.
Mossy Earth’s Kelp Restoration 3-part Project tackles disappearing seaweed forests head-on. With help from their partner, SeaForester, they’ve begun Portugal’s seaweed forests restoration trial by using the “spore bag” seeding technique.
While the term “rewilding” has endured its fair share of criticism from farmers fearing loss of land and income from species introductions, marine ecosystem rewilding arguably holds less of a threat to locals’ lifestyles.
When done hand-in-hand with local communities as stakeholders, rewilding our blue carbon stores offers enormous benefits and, therefore, has the potential for projects that bring people together.
The Issue: A Deep Dive Into Our Big Blue
Our oceans are a mess, to say the least.
Out of 500 million km2, only 13% of our deep blue waters are considered marine wilderness. From commercial fishing techniques to bottom trawling and dredging, these wild waters have been stripped of life. Not only that, but the processes involved are re-suspending water carbon, reducing our ocean’s ability to absorb more CO2 while potentially releasing its stores into the atmosphere.
So, we have a reason and a method to remedy this problem – what’s holding us back?
The role of these blue carbon solutions to support our climate battle is unrecognised by many governments. While some governments acknowledge marine carbon stores and their importance, no steadfast commitments to protect and restore blue carbon have been made.
Is it because it's out of sight, out of mind?
Or is it because there isn’t enough noise or pressure around the topic to create that sense of urgency governments need in order to act?
Whatever the reason, as with most pressing environmental causes, it lands on the people to bring these issues forward.
Here’s how to do it.
4 Steps to Support Marine Ecosystem Rewilding Projects
The truth is our oceans hold the power to reverse climate change. And with more individuals offering a hands-on approach, we can help unleash this power in our lifetime.
Here are four steps you can take to make this marine magic happen.
Step 1: Urge your local MPs to scale ocean rewilding for blue carbon and biodiversity
Ever written to your local MP before?
It’s insanely easy.
Check out this site to find the MP, MSP, MS, or MLA in your area (in the UK), then click on their name to view their contact info. You can write to them, call them – however you feel you communicate best.
If you decide to email your MP, you can save your email as a template and send it to friends and family to fill out to gain more support.
Here are some points to bring up in your conversation:
- As outlined by the Blue Carbon Report, our governments must make at least 30% of our oceans Highly Protected Marine Areas (hpMPAs) and 10% Fully Protected Marine Protected Areas (FPMPAs) by the year 2030.
- Our governments must also provide towing-free zones to recover our marine ecosystems and recovery of fish and shellfish.
- Implementing blue carbon protection and restoration into your government’s environmental management and climate mitigation policies is key - mention this to your MP.
- Demand investment into nature-led marine management systems (for instance, removing artificial sea defences to encourage natural processes).
Step 2: Reach out to a local marine ecosystem rewilding project
By either participating in, or financially supporting, a local marine ecosystem rewilding project, you can actively help create change – now.
Which is great...because that's exactly when we need it.
Here are a few organisations you can follow for information on local rewilding projects and how to get involved:
If you’re unable to join local rewilding efforts, then becoming a member of an organisation with specific rewilding projects can be just as powerful, if not more.
Mossy Earth’s Wild Salmonids project is a great example of this. To address declining Atlantic salmon and sea trout numbers in Ireland due to lice infestation from artificial salmon aquaculture facilities, Mossy Earth has partnered with Salmon Watch Ireland for an exciting live-monitoring project.
Reach out to the team or become a member to support from afar.
Step 3: Partake in protests that demand stopping marine environment destruction
This preventative step can help encourage government officials to step up their game whilst also spreading awareness of the issue.
It’s likely we’ve all heard of the Extinction Rebellion (House of Commons Naked Protest, anyone?) However, their sister organisation, Ocean Rebellion, is lesser-known but equally as powerful and passionate. You can contact them here to offer support or ask about any protests in a city near you.
Alternatively, local organisations such as Plastic Free Chesterfield may be more suited to your "bringing down the man" methods.
Step 4: Spread the Word
By sharing marine ecosystem rewilding success stories on your social media feed, in conversations, or through work projects, you’re actively spreading awareness, increasing positivity, inspiring, and potentially changing, the world through your words.
Mossy Earth’s Croatian “Baby Dragon” rewilding and cave clean-up project is one of those sharable stories. To help the rare and special animals in Croatia’s submerged caves, home to massive amounts of subterranean biodiversity, Mossy Earth partners with cave biologists and divers in a two-part project.
Storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves.Nature Communications Study
The Future of Marine Ecosystem Rewilding
While uncultivated lands and feral humans may have been past expectations for the future of rewilding, marine ecosystem rewilding provides a different image.
In this potential future, our wild waters are teeming with life, coastal communities thrive, our world is once again in a balanced state, and our species holds newfound respect for nature, our oceans, and its incredible restoration abilities.
The science is there. The action steps are possible.
It just takes a community of passionate individuals to help make it happen.