Mangrove carbon projects are complex, and their success relies on balancing various technical, financial, legal, political, and economic considerations. Projects must also pay close attention to social factors, including community consultation, fair and equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms and management rights, and ensuring projects do not negatively impact community livelihoods or resources.
Additionality is one core requirement carbon projects must meet to be accredited. Our modular guidance will discuss other key requirements (register here). The concept of additionality is fundamental to understanding whether a blue carbon project is eligible for producing certified offsets. For projects to qualify as additional, they must prove that their claimed emissions reductions or removals would not have occurred without the project’s intervention.
Projects must estimate the removals and emissions that will occur after implementation, and estimate the baseline emissions, or the “business as usual” scenario in the project area. The project must show that there is either more carbon captured during the project or fewer emissions during the project compared to the baseline.
For example, a project that aims to restore a severely damaged mangrove that will not regenerate naturally is likely additional, because, without the project, the mangrove will not grow and capture carbon on its own. Conversely, healthy mangroves not threatened are likely to remain healthy without any intervention, and thus a project would not be necessary or additional.
Restoring mangroves is more than simply planting seedlings in straight lines, although this is how mangrove restoration is often portrayed or imagined by funders or credit buyers. In fact, this style of mangrove restoration is notoriously prone to failure, as it does not consider the specific conditions and needs at a project site.
Carbon projects on the VCM must be monitored and reported on for at least 20 years, with reports verified by third-party experts at least every few years. Project managers must consider how they will meet the commitment to maintain and monitor the site for this length of time and ensure project permanence - that the site remains in good health and functioning long after the crediting period has ended. Restoration interventions must therefore be well-planned and will be unique to each site.
Fair Carbon endorses Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR), which incorporates mangrove restoration with community stewardship to combat mangrove loss. CBEMR focuses on creating a model of the composition and hydrology of the ecosystem, identifying drivers of degradation or loss, and making targeted interventions to correct them. This allows natural regeneration, assisted by limited planting in critical locations. Mangrove Action Project is the leading provider of CBEMR training.
Carbon Modelling and Monitoring
Carbon stocks and storage rates in mangroves can be highly variable. While default values of mangrove carbon capture help estimate project benefits in feasibility studies, during implementation, projects must measure and monitor carbon stocks in the field to ensure project emissions reductions are real. Carbon monitoring must align with the chosen standard’s strict technical requirements.
Measuring and monitoring above-ground biomass carbon can be simple, as projects can use satellite imagery to model trends in a mangrove area over time. Methodologies incorporating sediment carbon are more challenging, as measuring below-ground carbon storage requires field measurements.
For smaller sites, the cost, time, and expertise needed to incorporate sediment carbon may exceed the additional income generated from the offsets. In this instance, a standard such as Plan Vivo, which allows conservative default values for sediment carbon, may be preferable. However, a third-party Validation and Verification Body (VVB) must audit all carbon models.
Mangroves as Biodiversity Hotspots
Mangroves are essential nurseries for juvenile fish species that are important for subsistence and commercial fisheries. In addition, many terrestrial species, including migratory birds and recognisable or charismatic mammals, rely on mangroves for food and shelter.
Surveying which species are present in mangrove conservation and restoration sites is essential, as the presence of some animals may impact project objectives and design. For example, a project site with an endangered species may have to adjust its interventions to avoid disturbing the species’ habitat.
Mangrove projects with biodiversity co-benefits or that protect or restore habitat for endangered or charismatic species may also find it easier to attract investors and potentially sell credits at a higher price. Fair Carbon’s Mangrove Biodiversity Predictor Tool (beta version) maps where species of conservation importance might be found and provides links to survey techniques.
Resolving Land Tenure
Mangrove ecosystems are often subject to overlapping, contradictory, or unclear jurisdictions and legislation concerning ownership and management rights because they occur on land and in the sea. Where clear legislation exists, it may not be enforced or may differ in practice as mangroves are often treated as a shared resource regardless of ownership.
In some locations, land tenure may be secured simply by purchasing land or acquiring the right to operate through a lease or concession agreement. In others, mangroves may be state-owned, and local stakeholders may have pre-existing usage or access rights. It is important to note that private ownership may only extend up to the high-tide line in some locations, while below the high-tide line may fall under government control.
Resolving Carbon Rights
Clear mangrove land tenure laws exist in some countries, but they may not yet have a precedent for trading nature-based carbon offsets on the voluntary carbon market.
In countries without carbon trading legislation, projects cannot assume that selling offsets is legal. Projects must consult with the appropriate government agency in the case of unclear regulation to ensure their right to operate. This process may require extended consultations that can take months or years before accreditation can proceed. Register for our modules to learn more about carbon rights.
Despite the growing global interest in blue carbon, only a handful of accredited and operational projects exist due to financial challenges.
Several existing projects have been set up to demonstrate the feasibility of blue carbon projects and not necessarily to make a profit—they may even operate at a financial loss over the project's lifetime. These are philanthropically funded cooperative efforts between research institutions, carbon standards, local organisations, large international NGOs, and developers with a high level of expertise.
Other commercial blue carbon projects rely on their large scale to overcome initial high investment costs and uncertainty related to return on investment. These large-scale projects may find it easier to attract funding, as the potential return on investment is higher.
Project developers and technical advisors with the necessary skills to produce the required documentation are both expensive to hire and in short supply, which further hinders project development.
In addition, the time to register a project, finalise the design, establish legality, and complete community consultations can take years and requires a significant upfront investment. This process is often followed by 1 to 5 more years before an accreditation agency issues credits that the project can sell.
It is important to keep in mind that blue carbon projects are not automatically profitable. It is essential for projects to establish whether income from carbon offsets (and other revenue sources) is adequate to develop a project before committing funds to a feasibility study or stakeholder engagement.
Funding A Blue Carbon Project
With the current high demand for blue carbon offsets, there is increased interest from financiers and numerous funding options for projects with a complete feasibility study. Early-stage projects face more challenges in securing funding because it is time-consuming and costly to develop a feasibility study and thoroughly assess the legal, social, and political environment. Note that some investors do not prioritise community benefits or revenue sharing and may take advantage of projects by offering funding deals heavily weighted in their favour.
For more information, register for our mangrove carbon project modules here.
Stakeholder Consultation and Inclusive Governance
Many coastal areas are heavily populated, and communities often rely on mangroves for food, fuel, building materials, or other cultural or traditional uses.
Projects must determine whether local people currently use the project site, if site use or access must change, and how the project can be implemented fairly. Projects must develop solutions with input from local users and with informed consent when conflicts arise between the project and local community needs. Local stakeholder groups should also be meaningfully represented in project governance, receive an equitable share of project income, and decide how their share of project income is invested.
The Mikoko Pimoja mangrove project in Gazi Bay, Kenya, is an ideal example of inclusive governance and equitable benefit sharing.
In cases where communities use a site for their livelihoods, projects that exclude them from the project area must develop a reasonable replacement for the lost resources or livelihoods. For example, if a mangrove is used unsustainably for local fuelwood harvesting, the project may provide an alternative, such as a sustainable fuel source, or create a community woodlot outside the project area. In this case, the project can move forward, stakeholders’ needs are still met, and communities will not simply shift their unsustainable harvesting elsewhere.
Projects must work with the community to develop alternative livelihoods or resources that are viable and that the community approves of. Alternative livelihoods should replace lost resources or income to ensure that project interventions do not harm communities. In addition, projects must ensure that the long-term solutions will work for the community and that community members do not simply continue unsustainable site use after the project ends.
Published by the Gallifrey Foundation and the basis of the Fair Carbon project. Original research into developing mangrove carbon offsetting projects revealed numerous barriers to entry, organised into four categories: Legal/Political, Financial, Socio-Economic, and Scientific/Technical. The full document "Blue Carbon: Mind the Gap" can be read here.
The most comprehensive resource for blue carbon to date, A Blue Carbon Primer draws on more than 100 experts in the fields of policy, carbon accounting, and project development. While not directed specifically at the creation of blue carbon offsetting projects, it still contains a wealth of relevant information including case studies from extant coastal conservation projects.
Francis, E., Wilkman, A., Beeston, M. "Implementing Mangrove Carbon Projects." Geneva, Switzerland: Fair Carbon, 2023. https://faircarbon.org/content/fc/mangrovekeys