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President's Letter: Carbon and the Coasts
I'd like to talk about carbon and the coasts. No, not about the disaster occurring in the Gulf of Mexico though, of course, all of us continue to watch with horror as this unprecedented environmental tragedy unfolds after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon began spewing oil uncontrollably into the Gulf.
What I'm talking about is "blue carbon," biological carbon sequestered by marine living organisms, and the important role it plays in climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Our specific interest is in how the understanding of blue carbon can be integrated with, and further support, large-scale tidal wetlands restoration adaptation strategies.
Last month, Restore America's Estuaries convened a Blue Ribbon Panel to guide development of a greenhouse gas (GHG) offset protocol for tidal wetlands. Fourteen international experts on climate change, carbon sequestration, coastal science, governmental policy, and carbon investing met in San Francisco for three days--a two-day closed panel session followed by a one-day public stakeholder workshop--to set out guidelines that will be used to determine how effectively coastal wetlands store greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. That information, in turn, will be used to develop a greenhouse gas offset protocol for wetland restoration projects.
A GHG protocol--one that standardizes the parameters for project design, management, and carbon-capture measurements-- will provide the basis to undertake effective coastal restoration projects that can receive carbon credits through commercial and voluntary markets. Moreover, it has the potential to drive corporate investment toward large-scale tidal wetlands projects for use as carbon offsets. These same projects, if strategically designed, can effectively help our shorelines adapt to climate impacts such as sea-level rise.
Restore America's Estuaries Blue Ribbon Panel preliminary report, "Action Plan for Developing a National Greenhouse Gas Offset Protocol for Tidal Wetlands," available later this summer, will set out a roadmap to help guide us toward a better understanding of where we need to go from here to understand the role of tidal wetlands as carbon sinks, and how they can help us mitigate climate change and sea-level rise. In essence, the Action Plan will tell us what we know now--the state of the science--and what we need to go forward.
What do know right now is that coastal wetlands are key components in protecting our coasts from rising sea levels, storm surge, and from pollution. They provide habitat and breeding space that ensure biodiversity. They are the engines of much of our economy. Now we can add to that list that all types of coastal wetlands--mudflats, mangroves, salt and tidal marshes, and even estuarine scrublands and forests, all sequester tremendous amounts of carbon, particularly carbon dioxide, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
We know that we need coastal wetlands. They are irreplaceable.
Jeff Benoit
President and CEO
Restore America's Estuaries

President's Letter

More than a year ago, we set out to produce a pretty standard-issue report on the plight of habitat in our nation's estuaries and coasts. Our working title was "Habitats in Crisis." NOAA agreed to fund the project and we arranged for our colleagues at the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF), one of our 11 member organizations, to do the research, writing, and design work. The idea was to profile different estuaries across the country and examine the dire problems and challenges facing them.

But somewhere along the way, in all the researching, interviewing, and writing, a new storyline emerged. Frank Tursi, the NCCF Cape Lookout Coastkeeper, and Christine Miller, NCCF's Communications Director, the principal writer and editor for this report respectively, kept running across, well, hopeful and inspiring stories, stories where one or two people, or maybe a small community group, made a huge difference in saving or preserving their local watershed. After being just a bit slow on the uptake, we realized, belatedly, that these were stories we wanted to tell. "Habitats in Crisis" became "Hope for Coastal Habitats: People, Partnerships & Projects Making a Difference."

"Hope for Coastal Habitats" contains a lot of good news. There's the story about how two Wisconsin boys in the '60s set out to save one of the last true remaining strips of coastal prairie along Lake Michigan. Then there's the one about how a retired Navy officer helped resurrect one of the country's historic oyster fisheries along the Lynnhaven River in Virginia. One of my favorites is the Chums of Barker Creek, a small group of concerned citizens near Seattle who mounted a successful effort to replace a neighborhood culvert that had blocked salmon migrations for decades.

That said, there's also plenty of bad news in "Hope for Coastal Habitats." The wholesale destruction of coastal watersheds through overdevelopment and pollution, the loss of species and species habitat, and the real and increasing dangers of climate change constitute the gravest threats our coasts have ever faced.

It is no surprise that the bad news gets the biggest share of attention from both the press and the public. The problems are global and daunting--seemingly demanding of huge solutions both governmental and technological, and beyond the scope of small-scale fixes and individual initiative.

The truth is that huge solutions are impossible without pressure from and participation by individuals, groups, cities, and townships. Change comes from the bottom up. It is the small that makes the big possible. And, in many ways, this is what Restore America's Estuaries is all about: The power of the few to make that difference.

Jeff Benoit President

Message from the President

As I write this, the international climate change meetings are going on in Copenhagen. Predictably, the meetings’ two central tenets, the reality of climate change and the need for international collaboration to address what may be the defining crisis of our time, (and perhaps all time), is under attack by a small and vocal minority of deniers.

The truth is that there is no longer a meaningful debate about the reality of climate change, its nature, or its causes. As the meetings opened, the World Meteorological Organization, backed by the United States National Climatic Data Center and NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, announced that the past ten years are the warmest on record over the 160 years that such records have been kept. It is clear that human-generated greenhouse gases are in large measure responsible for the warming.

It is also clear that we face a radically different world in the coming decades; how different is hard to know. Global oceanic and atmospheric modeling is a vastly complex and confounding enterprise.

What is certain is that the process is underway. Sea-level rise, the result of melting polar icecaps and the thermal expansion of ocean waters, is already a well-documented fact. Droughts, shifting rain patterns, species extinctions, agricultural and economic dislocations, and the disruption of essential ocean currents responsible for global climate regulation and equilibrium remain very real possibilities.

That is, of course, unless we talk openly and honestly, and set real and meaningful goals and measures we intend to meet. I hope Copenhagen is that beginning.

                                                                                             Jeff Benoit, President and CEO





President's Letter

On June 30, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it had selected 50 coastal restoration projects to be funded with $167 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Just the inclusion of habitat restoration for funding under the ARRA package was itself a defining moment for the entire coastal and estuarine habitat restoration community. And the fact that NOAA received $167 million for a program funded annually at only $13 million was, well, nothing less than spectacular.

But here's the real story--within the 30-day application period, NOAA received more than 800 applications for ready-to-go projects totaling more than $3 billion! Stop and think about that...more than $3 billion worth of coastal and estuarine habitat restoration projects just waiting to be started, while NOAA's Community-Based Restoration Program limps along with $13 million annually.

I mention the huge backlog of projects because, ironically enough, September 26 is National Estuaries Day. Since 1988, National Estuaries Days has been the one day we celebrate the beauty of estuaries, their ecological and economic significance, and, most importantly, the need to protect these special places. America's estuaries deserve this day in the spotlight, but they also deserve to be treated with respect every day of the year. That includes having a robust national habitat restoration program that will not only eliminate the backlog of restoration projects, but adequately fund implementation of the many plans that exist to repair and preserve our coasts and watersheds.

Restore America's Estuaries is dedicated to fighting for funding levels that will significantly increase the pace of restoring coastal and estuarine habitats, and I sure as heck know our estuaries need that help. What I don't know is why the Administration and Congress don't wake up and realize that our nation's estuaries are slowly slipping beyond a tipping point that may be irrevocable. What does it take for them to get it?

Jeff Benoit
President and CEO

President's Letter

Summer is always an extraordinary time of year for the habitat restoration community. Our member groups, alongside dozens of partner organizations and thousands of community volunteers, are either hard at work on restoration projects, or preparing for the busy season ahead.

Not to be left out, the Restore America's Estuaries' staff recently spent a day volunteering a Chesapeake Bay Foundation oyster restoration project. We joined half a dozen locals and a group of University of Maryland students who were taking time to volunteer for the Bay.

Our task was to help construct 200- to 300-lb. concrete "reef balls" that, after curing for several months, are going to be placed in oyster-rearing tanks so that young oyster spat can settle and attach to their surfaces. From there the reef balls will be placed in the Bay as an artificial oyster reef, attracting and harboring oysters for years to come.

Tired and dirty, we all walked away at the end of the day with a real sense of satisfaction in what we had accomplished, even though we knew it would still be months before the reef balls would be placed in the Bay.

For those of us at Restore America's Estuaries, it was a special day. It not only reminded us of how critically important coastal habitat restoration is, it also left each of feeling more connected to the Chesapeake.

Take time this summer to help an estuary--I highly recommend it!

Jeff Benoit

Letter from the President

...Setting aside the environment arguments near and dear to many of us, let's examine some cold, hard economic facts. Last year, Restore America's Estuaries released a report, "The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?", and found that their contribution to the nation's economy is, well, staggering. Our coasts and estuaries are worth approximately $1 trillion annually to our economy. That is roughly the entire federal bailout package to date. Our coastal waterways support more than $800 billion in trade and commerce, and tens of billions in recreational dollars.

Forty-three percent of us live in coastal areas, accounting for 40 percent of all employment nationally, and a whopping 43 percent of our overall economic output. Recreation--tourism,beach-going, wildlife viewing, angling, and more--adds between $60 billion and $100 billion to the nation's ledger every year.

This is the conundrum facing our coastal areas in the 21st century: How do we balance our love for water and shore with all the uses and abuses--industrial, commercial, extractive, and recreational--we inflict on our coastal ecosystems?

A good first step is the recognition that our nation's coasts are irreplaceable, both ecologically and economically. Including habitat restoration funds in the stimulus package is a much-needed and long-awaited acknowlegement of that central truth.

All of us at RAE look forward to working with the new administration and Congress to make the preservation and restoration of our vital coastal regions a true national commitment.

Jeff Benoit
President and CEO