It is a powerhouse: a 1,450-mile waterway that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez, serving 40 million people in seven U.S. states, 30 federally recognized tribes and Mexico. It hydrates 5 million acres of agricultural land and provides critical habitat for rare fish, birds and plants.
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ALLIGATOR RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.C. — As the first light of day flickers across the Croatan Sound, Scott Lanier surveys the gray, barren tree trunks that stand in every direction, like massive gravestones marking the once-vibrant landscape.
Coastal wetlands support a huge range of life on Earth and provide the major benefit of capturing and storing carbon—so-called “blue carbon.” Conserving and restoring these ecosystems can contribute to broader efforts that combat climate change.
Many climate efforts focus on carbon capture from power plants and refineries – preventing emissions before they reach the atmosphere. But even if we dramatically reduce emissions in the years ahead, we still need to deal with all the carbon dioxide already in the sky.
Indigenous nations have been an afterthought in U.S. water policy for over a century. That was all part of the plan.
On a brutally cold day here earlier this week, Kirill Shchapov stood 200 meters off the shore of Lake Michigan, using a green auger to drill into a glistening ice sheet that stretched to the horizon. A fountain of water erupted when he yanked the auger from the hole. But soon Shchapov, a limnologist at the University of Minnesota (UM), Duluth, and other researchers were busily lowering nets and instruments through the opening, collecting water samples and shellfish that lived on the lake floor some 5 meters down.
On a recent weekend, a family went fishing feet away from a salt marsh in the northwest corner of Carolina Beach State Park, about 20 minutes south of downtown Wilmington.
Delia Owens knows a lot about salt marsh from her time spent studying zoology at the University of Georgia and her experience living in North Carolina. And she’s incorporated salt marsh as a central element in her writing, showcasing these vibrant and abundant coastal wetlands that provide essential habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife.
Bordered in part by a thin chain of barrier islands—the Outer Banks—the sounds, shorelines, and marshes of North Carolina’s coast form one of the largest estuary systems in the country. The seagrass found in its vast underwater meadows is unusually diverse, consisting of species found to the south and the north, but nowhere else together. The coast is also home to a wide array of wildlife that depends on this habitat year-round.
Coastal wetlands, including salt marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows, are among the most productive—and threatened—ecosystems on the planet. They provide many benefits to people and nature, such as helping communities adapt to severe storms, flooding, and other climate-related threats and sequestering carbon from the water and atmosphere in their branches, leaves, roots, and underlying soils. These carbon stores are known as “blue carbon” because they are located in places where the land meets the sea. However, these wetland habitats have lost more than a third of their area over the past half-century.