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What is Blue Forests?

Distribution of mangroves, temperate salt marshes and arctic and subpolar salt marshes. Source: Scott et al 2014.

Distribution of mangroves, temperate salt marshes and arctic and subpolar salt marshes. Source: Scott et al 2014.

Blue forests are marine and coastal ecosystems that are particularly valuable through their provisioning of multiple ecosystem services, of which carbon capturing and sequestration is one.

The ability to assimilate and store atmospheric carbon is shared by all marine ecosystems (a concept also termed ‘blue carbon’). Some are particularly effective at this. Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and saltwater marshes in tropical areas account for more than 50 % of all carbon storage in ocean sediments; despite they only cover 0.5 % of the sea bed. In the northern and southern hemispheres, kelp forests are particularly important. Kelp forests live on temperate and boreal rocky reefs, covering 25 % of the world’s coastline and mare found along most of the Norwegian coast.

The carbon value of coastal blue forests is being recognized as important by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), not at least due to the ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon – up to five times that stored in tropical forests.

Distribution of kelp forests. Source: Maximillian Dörrbecker.

Distribution of kelp forests. Source: Maximillian Dörrbecker.

Blue forests ecosystems also provide many other important services beyond the carbon sequestration. In tropical areas the mangrove ecosystems are particularly important for coastal and island communities by protecting against coastal erosion, storms and flooding; also making them valuable for climate change adaptation. They provide food from fisheries, as well as a habitat for juvenile fish and shrimps to thrive in. They improve coastal water quality by trapping sediments and nutrients. They can provide local revenue from tourism, as well as materials for building or ingredients for medicines. All tropical blue forests ecosystems are under considerable human pressure, thus their conservation and sustainable use is crucial.

In temperate and boreal regions, such as for Norway, the conservation, restoration and sustainable management and commercial use of kelp can contribute to both climate sequestration and to replace a black carbon economy with a blue-green one. The high productivity and equally biodiversity of the kelp forests make them important providers of various ecosystem services, of which some are similar to those for tropical blue forests. Kelp forests act as important food baskets and breeding areas for economically important coastal fish stocks, crabs and lobsters. In Norway kelp has been commercially harvested for more than 50 years. Now, the algae-based green economy is rapidly developing in Norway and other kelp countries offering products such as human food (stabilisers, thickeners, human food directly), drugs, and protein-rich animal fodder. Some main threats to kelp forests are sea urchins, eutrophication and raising temperatures under climate change.

Distribution of Zostera seagrass. Source: Wikimedia commons.

Distribution of Zostera seagrass. Source: Wikimedia commons.

Norway, with its long coastline and strong traditional connection to marine resources, has internationally been a strong advocate for the sustainable use of coastal blue forests ecosystems. Norway has also supported blue forests policy at the international level, within the context of UNFCCC and IPCC, and under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Also, under its development policy umbrella Norway supports projects in blue forests ecosystems that aim to improve ecosystem management, empower and involve local communities, and contribute to poverty reduction. Nationally, the sustainable use of marine ecosystems is a cornerstone of Norway’s goal to develop its blue-green economy.

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