Hi all! My name is Joanna and I’m excited to join the community of Oregon Sea Grant Scholars for the 2021-2022 Natural Resource Policy Fellowship. I matched with The Nature Conservancy as my host organization to explore Blue Carbon in Oregon. Blue Carbon refers to any carbon stored within soils or biomass in coastal and marine ecosystems: think salt marshes, eelgrass, and kelp forests, for example. There has been recent focus on protecting and restoring these habitats, in part because they are so good at absorbing and sequestering atmospheric carbon and can be part of the solution to mitigate the effects of climate change. (Although, of course, the greatest reduction effects would be seen from drastically reducing fossil fuel consumption.) Natural Climate Solutions—including Blue Carbon—provide this essential service in addition to myriad co-benefits that support coastal biological and human communities.
Much of Blue Carbon science has been conducted in the tropics and typically framed in terms those tropical ecosystems. Salt marshes and seagrasses are common to both the tropics and the Pacific Northwest, but mangrove forests—understood to be the most effective carbon storage ecosystem—do not occur in the PNW. We do, however, have Sitka spruce swamps which tolerate the salinity of tidally influenced wetlands and store incredible amounts of carbon in soils and woody biomass. Additionally, many of the oceanic sources of Blue Carbon are not well incorporated into our understanding of carbon pathways in Oregon. My project seeks to understand the potential role of Blue Carbon to reach Oregon’s carbon reduction targets and to finance restoration through carbon credits.
The first few months of this fellowship have been a whirlwind of learning about Blue Carbon science, meeting many of the amazing people who work and are interested in this space, and changing the way I think about science and the ways it’s applied in the world. My background in marine science led me to approach problems using a fairly rigid framework—formulating research questions, deriving hypotheses, constructing methodologies—but working in applied science and policy has certainly challenged the way I think about approaching projects. Scientific rigor is, of course, still needed as the foundation for effective climate policy, but I’ve learned to put more emphasis on human elements—relationships between people and the lands and waters on which they depend, and connections between partners and stakeholders to implement change. I’m excited to continue exploring established and frontier Blue Carbon pathways, and connecting with partners and policymakers during the course of my fellowship.