The shore is a mutual caress. More than just a place of encounter between land and water, it is one of the physical and imagined thresholds between humans and the other-than-human world. This place of touch - through thoughts, actions, interconnections, and affect - is the inevitable crossing at the beginning and end of every inquiry into the world’s bodies of water.
In the context of the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and the recent historic High Seas Treaty to establish Marine Protected Areas in international waters, the world looks into the deep blue. Let us, however, linger on the way there for a moment. Let us breathe, and let the shore catch our breath.
This moment on the shore leads us to a conversation with Kremena Burkhard – a researcher at the Ludwig Franzius Institute of Hydraulic, Estuarine and Coastal Engineering at the Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. Kremena’s work focuses on the co-benefits and risks of carbon sequestration in coastal ecosystems.
Late last year, she presented her most recent work at the 4th European conference of the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP), which won her one of the Best Poster Talk awards.
I find the idea of improving the understanding of how ecosystems – and more generally the natural world – contribute to our well-being to be very inspiring and refreshing in a high-tech profit-oriented world,she says to explain how she stays motivated in her research work.
To communicate this knowledge to policy- and decision-makers, as well as the general public is key, especially when we consider the threats of climate change and the fact that our deep dependency on nature seems to be largely undervalued,she adds.
Kremena highlights the role of nature-based solutions:
When utilising conventional and nature-based solutions, the focus is often on a single benefit that is demanded in a certain area, time and situation.
In contrast to conventional solutions, nature-based solutions provide additional co-benefits. These may include biodiversity protection and other ecosystem services that address broader societal demands and are more sustainable in the long term.
As part of the CDRmare research mission “Marine carbon sinks in decarbonisation pathways” of the German Marine Research Alliance, Kremena’s work on coastal ecosystems aims to develop approaches and methodologies which can be applied in an international context.
Our project sea4soCiety focuses on the carbon storage capacity and co-benefits of four coastal vegetated ecosystems which play a key role as carbon sinks around the world and thus contribute to climate regulation. The analysis and methods developed in the project contribute scientifically to the studied topics and have an international relevance.
The German coast is representative of three coastal ecosystems, namely seagrass, salt marsh and macroalgae. The fourth ecosystem – that of mangrove forests in the tropics, is also investigated within the project as a key ocean carbon sink of global relevance.
But climate regulation is only one of the multiple services that these ecosystems provide. Coastal protection, water purification, food and material provision and recreation are among the key services of coastal ecosystems, the benefits of which are used and highly appreciated by the local communities and have significant role in the local safety, economy and culture.
What are the strategies for mitigating or further analysing the risks of carbon sequestration in coastal ecosystems?
We prioritise conservation and restoration of coastal vegetated ecosystems, which are often heavily degraded, and we identify the most suitable areas for establishment of new ecosystems. This reduces the risk of carbon release and provides additional carbon sink capacity.
Further risks are related to unknown climate change impacts. The sea temperature and hydrodynamics are changing, and we are not sure how those changes of habitat will impact the coastal ecosystems. We are studying their reaction in laboratory environments and in the field, identifying thresholds for their functionality and capacity to supply ecosystem services.
Finally, the identification and mitigation of conflicts with other users of those ecosystems is also key to reduce the social risks for all beneficiaries, including labour, human rights, public health issues, and political uncertainty.
When it comes to stakeholders and non-experts, is science communication around the topic of carbon sequestration in coastal ecosystems effective?
On a national and international level, Germany seems to be on track with setting targets and planning actions to become climate neutral through the Climate Action Programme 2030.
The CDRmare research mission and in particular the sea4soCiety project on carbon sequestration in coastal ecosystems are in a way part of that effort, receiving funding to provide the knowledge base for the action programme. Thus, to some extent, the science communication on that level is working and the action plan is based on scientific knowledge.
The shortcomings are in the implementation phase. Local governments are often lacking established mechanisms that allow and support the implementation of action plans related to the national targets.
Such regulated implementation strategies should operationalise the uptake of scientific knowledge in the management of coastal ecosystems and by the local communities, and also in all fields of policy and management.