Much of the discussion around nature-based carbon offsets surrounds terrestrial forests and grasslands. However, coastal wetlands are a rapidly disappearing ecosystem that can sequester up to 10 times more carbon per acre than tropical forests.
Pocosin wetlands are freshwater wetlands that develop along the Atlantic coast of the United States from Virginia to Florida. They form in shallow basins near the coast that do not drain naturally. The wetlands collect organic matter that forms a murky black peat soil that is highly acidic and can hold large quantities of carbon. Historically, Americans have not seen the value in the Pocosin wetlands and drained them for farming, development, and timber. Over a 20-year span from the 1960’s to the 1980s, 2 million acres of Pocosin wetlands in North Carolina were reduced to approximately 700,000 acres.
Beyond carbon storage, the wetlands have myriad other benefits, including fire mitigation, important animal habitat, and improved water quality. When the wetlands are drained, they transform into grasslands that are prone to fires. These fires can ignite the peat causing uncontrolled burns that release sequestered carbon well outside the magnitude released in a forest fire. The largest fires on the East coast in recent years have all been peat fires. By rewetting the peatlands, the natural fire cycle can return. This will prevent the months-long out of control blazes that have been seen in these forests in recent years.
The Pocosin are an irreplaceable home for many flora and fauna. They are important habitat for tens of thousands of migratory birds that travel the Atlantic skyway every year. This landing spot is critical for species all along the spectrum from songbirds to snow geese. Additionally, endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and red wolf live in the wetlands. They also have one of the densest populations of black bears that has been observed. The wetlands are habitat to dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians.
While the Pocosin swamps are formed via rainfall, they are considered hydrologically linked to the surrounding watershed. They act as a filter for water that leaves the wetlands. This protects the water quality in estuaries, a habitat with its own importance and ecological benefits. The American Carbon Registry has a carbon offset methodology for the “Restoration of Pocosin Wetlands.” To date, most wetland restoration protocols have yet to issue carbon offsets. The economics of these projects can be difficult to scale, this does not mean the myriad to co-benefits should be ignored.
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