Articles | Volume 14, issue 2
Reviews and syntheses
23 Jan 2017
Reviews and syntheses |  | 23 Jan 2017

Reviews and syntheses: Hidden forests, the role of vegetated coastal habitats in the ocean carbon budget

Carlos M. Duarte

Abstract. Vegetated coastal habitats, including seagrass and macroalgal beds, mangrove forests and salt marshes, form highly productive ecosystems, but their contribution to the global carbon budget remains overlooked, and these forests remain hidden in representations of the global carbon budget. Despite being confined to a narrow belt around the shoreline of the world's oceans, where they cover less than 7 million km2, vegetated coastal habitats support about 1 to 10 % of the global marine net primary production and generate a large organic carbon surplus of about 40 % of their net primary production (NPP), which is either buried in sediments within these habitats or exported away. Large, 10-fold uncertainties in the area covered by vegetated coastal habitats, along with variability about carbon flux estimates, result in a 10-fold bracket around the estimates of their contribution to organic carbon sequestration in sediments and the deep sea from 73 to 866 Tg C yr−1, representing between 3 % and 1∕3 of oceanic CO2 uptake. Up to 1∕2 of this carbon sequestration occurs in sink reservoirs (sediments or the deep sea) beyond these habitats. The organic carbon exported that does not reach depositional sites subsidizes the metabolism of heterotrophic organisms. In addition to a significant contribution to organic carbon production and sequestration, vegetated coastal habitats contribute as much to carbonate accumulation as coral reefs do. While globally relevant, the magnitude of global carbon fluxes supported by salt-marsh, mangrove, seagrass and macroalgal habitats is declining due to rapid habitat loss, contributing to loss of CO2 sequestration, storage capacity and carbon subsidies. Incorporating the carbon fluxes' vegetated coastal habitats' support into depictions of the carbon budget of the global ocean and its perturbations will improve current representations of the carbon budget of the global ocean.

Short summary
Vegetated coastal habitats (mangroves, seagrass meadows, salt marshes and macroalgal beds) are key contributors to the marine carbon budget, but remain hidden in the representation of the coastal carbon budget. While they have been acknowledged to play an important role in carbon burial, this is small compared to the export flow, which may lead to carbon sequestration beyond these habitats. The carbon fluxes supported by vegetated coastal habitats are globally relevant.
Final-revised paper