Blue Forests Basics

What are Blue Forests?

Blue forests are a common name for vegetation in the ocean and tidal zones such as kelp and rockweed, seagrass, saltmarshes, and mangroves. These different “forests” have significant value because of the vital role they have within marine environments.

Why are they important?

Many marine species are dependent upon blue forests. These coastal vegetation ecosystems provide key nursery habitats, feeding grounds and refuge spaces for juvenile marine species and fish, as well as larger species who rely on blue forests for feeding.

Nutrients that contribute to turbidity, or the clouding of the ocean water, are absorbed by blue forests which increases water quality and fosters below-water photosynthesis processes for other marine plant species. Blue forests also bind sediments, preventing coastal erosion along coastlines, and protect from storm surges – both vital for coastal and small island communities that are frequently impacted by severe weather events.

Blue forests are also important for carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake and carbon storage – a process which is called “blue carbon”. The total biomass of blue forests take up less than 0.5% of the world’s ocean surface, yet it is estimated that they account for 70% of carbon storage in the ocean.

In this context, blue forests can play an important role in reducing the impacts of climate change. Conservation, restoration and the sustainable management of coastal areas are essential for reducing the global climate footprint and maintaining biological diversity.

What ecosystem services do blue forests provide?

The ecosystem services provided by blue forests can be categorised as supporting (i.e., nutrient cycling and maintaining ecosystem functions), provisioning (i.e., providing food and resources), regulating (i.e., purifying water, storing carbon, and protecting coastlines), and cultural (i.e., aesthetics, recreation, and education).

Thus, blue forests have economic value through tourism and other applications such as edible products for humans and animals, medicines, and thickening agents for cosmetics and foods.

Why are Blue Forests Important for Norway?

In Norway, the primary blue forests found domestically are kelp, rockweed, seagrass meadows and saltwater marshes. Protecting and restoring these blue forests are of national interest for several reasons.

Blue forests provide key ecosystem services that are very relevant to domestic policymaking. Specifically, blue forests provide essential habitats for countless marine species, particularly for commercially valuable fish and shellfish caught and sold in Norway.

Conserving and restoring blue forests also help the country reach its climate and biodiversity targets, both domestically (i.e., the National Biodiversity Act, the Norwegian Climate Strategy for 2030, and the Integrated Management Plan for the Norwegian Sea) and internationally (i.e., Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Climate Agreement, 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the Ramsar Wetlands Convention).

Climate change and biodiversity loss is also a thematic area within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norad’s international development policy. The Norwegian government has a mandate to support developing nations with climate change mitigation and adaptation, food security and fisheries, and maintaining biodiversity – all of which are connected to the protection and restoration of blue forests.