UMD Faculty Helps Develop Method to Encourage Worldwide Wetlands Restoration

New methodology to incentivize funding streams for coastal wetland restoration projects

ENST Associate Professor Brian Needelman (third from left) works with a group of students, staff and volunteers sampling soils at a marsh at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, MD.

Image Credit: Brian Needelman

November 24, 2015

A team of scientists, including Associate Professor Brian Needelman from the University of Maryland’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology, has developed a method for measuring the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere achieved through coastal wetland restoration. The methodology, approved Tuesday, November 24th by the Verified Carbon Standard, will make it possible for these types of environmentally beneficial restoration projects to receive funding around the world.

Coastal wetlands – which include salt marsh, seagrass, mangroves and other tidal wetlands – are some of the most productive habitats in the world. In addition to providing critical fish habitat, improving water quality, and protecting the coastline from storms, coastal wetlands also remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This carbon (referred to as “blue carbon”) is then stored in the ground, where it can remain for centuries or more, as long as the habitat is not degraded or destroyed.

However, development pressures, polluted runoff and sea-level rise has caused the loss of 50% of U.S. wetlands since the 1800s. Globally, coastal wetland loss is estimated to be between 0.7-7% a year, and restoration projects are largely underfunded, despite the myriad of benefits these habitats provide. As coastal habitat is destroyed, the carbon stored in its soil may be emitted back into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change.

This landmark methodology provides the procedures for how to calculate, report, and verify greenhouse gas reductions for tidal wetland restoration projects globally. Now, projects such as removing tidal barriers, improving water quality to increase seagrass habitat, beneficial use of dredged material, and reintroducing native plant communities will be eligible to earn carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market, generating new sources of funding.  

“I’ve spent a lot of time with coastal wetlands. I love them. They provide so many ecosystem services and are just beautiful ecosystems themselves,” says Needelman, PhD, who has spent a decade researching coastal wetlands and the last four helping to develop the methodology. “Unfortunately, coastal wetlands are vanishing globally at unprecedented rates. This methodology is one way we can help people who want to do something to reverse this trend by giving them a tool that will make securing funding easier.”

Carbon credits are purchased by companies or individuals to offset the emissions they can’t reduce. Thanks to this new methodology, companies can purchase carbon credits to support coastal habitat projects that provide a climate benefit.

In addition to Dr. Needelman, who is listed as second author, the methodology was developed by Dr. Igino Emmer from Silvestrum, Steve Emmett-Mattox from Restore America’s Estuaries, Dr. Steve Crooks from Environmental Science Associates, Dr. Pat Megonigal from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Doug Myers from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Matthew Oreska from the University of Virginia, Dr. Karen McGlathery from the University of Virginia and David Shoch from Terracarbon.

Needelman’s research was funded in large part by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Power Plant Research Program. The methodology development was led by Restore America’s Estuaries with financial support from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative (under the Bringing Wetlands to Market: Nitrogen and Coastal Blue Carbon Project), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Habitat Conservation, The Ocean Foundation, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, and KBR.