Photo credit: Gareth Cooke
Why the ocean matters
The ocean has greatly slowed the rate of climate change. It is a powerful carbon sink. Absorbing a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released since humans started burning fossil fuels, it has also trapped an estimated 90% of the excess heat created by climate warming gasses.
But at a cost. The ocean has also warmed, lost oxygen and acidified, currents are changing, and sea levels are rising. To continue along this path not only threatens marine ecosystems, but also the future ability of the ocean to indirectly support life. The ocean is not only a victim of climate change, it is also a vital part of the solution.
Today, governments at COP26 look to the water, ocean and coastal seas for climate solutions. A healthy ocean can play a key role in reducing CO2 emissions and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. To do this, governments, NGOs, companies, financial institutions and other non-state actors need to scale up their action in protecting the ocean, its ecosystems, species and resources.
And there are options available. These include scaling-up action at national levels and including ocean-related measures in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), strengthening ocean science, increasing the share of climate finance for ocean-based mitigation and adaptation strategies, and expanding marine protected areas. Acting at scale, we can secure a healthy and productive ocean that contributes to a resilient, nature-positive and net-zero future.
Aotearoa New Zealand has an opportunity to lead. Our island nation has the fourth-largest ocean space within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, however, currently only 0.4% of it is protected. With a global goal to safeguard 30% of ocean space within marine protected areas by 2030, we are a long way off.
“The ocean is a massive carbon sink and Aotearoa is guardian to one the of the largest and most significant ocean spaces in the world, over four million square kilometres. Protecting and restoring the ocean has to be part of our climate response as a country”, said Peter Burling, founder of Live Ocean.
Restoring kelp to Tīkapa Moana - the Hauraki Gulf
To contribute to Aotearoa’s ocean restoration, Live Ocean is announcing support of research by the University of Auckland into the revival of kelp forests in coastal areas that have been decimated by kina (sea urchins).
The Hauraki Gulf is New Zealand’s largest marine park. It stretches a vast 1.2million hectares with over 50 islands. Once home to vast forests of kelp, kina barrens have taken over many of the reefs. These ‘trees of the sea’ are hugely efficient at fixing and storing carbon, storing up to 20 times more CO2 than terrestrial forests and are a powerful ocean-based solution readily available to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“The Hauraki Gulf used to be one of the great coastal marine ecosystems of the world. Above the waterline it still looks great, but when you go underwater, it’s a different story,” says Blair Tuke, founder of Live Ocean. “In the gulf, the reefs are a patchwork of kina barrens… bare rock where there should be kelp, the ecosystem is in crisis. Kelp is really good at absorbing carbon and it’s also an important part of a healthy ecosystem.”
Live Ocean is supporting work by Dr Nick Shears from the University of Auckland to understand both the scale of the problem and what happens when the kina are removed from barrens.
The three-year research project will map shallow reefs using a combination of satellite and drone imagery, combined with ground-truth imagery collected by drop-camera or underwater photogrammetry methodologies. A further two-year research project will also investigate how kelp forests contribute to coastal carbon cycles.
“Kelps are extremely efficient at fixing carbon, but our research so far has demonstrated that only a small proportion of this carbon is stored in kelp forests, with much of it being released back into the ocean. This research will help us understand the long-term fate of this “lost” carbon and the role of kelp forests in climate change mitigation”, said Dr Nick Shears, associate professor at the University of Auckland’s Institute of Marine Science.
The research findings could be very significant for new areas of marine protection, where kina removal could be used as a tool to significantly accelerate habitat restoration.