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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Catching Carbon: A Blue Carbon Assessment of San Diego Wetlands for Equitable Climate Action Planning

The data associated with this publication are within the manuscript.

At present, wetlands cover only 5.5% of land in the contiguous United States.In California, only 10% of the historical wetland extent remains.2 Despite covering a small portion of land, wetlands provide an enormous amount of ecosystem services including food production, shelter, flood storage, shoreline erosion protection, and opportunities for recreation, education, and research. One ecosystem service of utmost importance is carbon (C) sequestration. Wetlands are one of many “blue carbon” ecosystems – ecosystems that naturally absorb and store atmospheric carbon within their soils. Studies have demonstrated that blue carbon ecosystems can capture and store as much as, or even more C per unit area than, global terrestrial forests.1,2 In 2021, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report demonstrated that climate change is widespread, rapid, intensifying, and unprecedented at present.5 The “climate crisis” is characterized by a variety of environmental impacts including sea level rise, loss of species, and more intense weather events. These impacts disproportionately affect low-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities around the world. In response, countries, organizations, and other stakeholders are ramping up efforts to address the climate crisis and the County of San Diego is one of them. San Diego County is currently updating their 2018 Climate Action Plan (CAP) to better meet the State of California’s greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation goals. Currently, the CAP focuses primarily on reducing future emissions through the implementation of energy-efficient and decarbonization technologies. However, there are two missing pieces to the CAP – utilizing natural climate solutions, like blue carbon ecosystems, and achieving climate equity. This report synthesizes years of wetland and blue carbon research, outlines the wetlands around San Diego County, and identifies climate equity priorities. It sheds light on how wetland restoration can act as a place-based strategy for local climate mitigation climate equity, and inclusive and just conservation.

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