A Preliminary Assessment of the Blue Carbon Capacity of Belizean Mangroves with Ecological, Economic, and Policy Perspectives

Thumbnail Image




Chang, Sylvia
Green, Ashley
Kelley, Emma


Silliman, Brian Reed
Murray, Brian

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



In recent years, mangrove forests have experienced increasing deforestation rates in Belize due to coastal development. Our client, the Belize Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development, wants to determine the potential for Belizean mangrove blue carbon to provide funding opportunities through international financing schemes for the conservation and enhancement of mangroves. Mangrove forests are coastal wetlands along the intertidal zone of tropical and subtropical coastlines. Mangrove, salt marsh, and seagrass ecosystems have significant abilities to sequester and store carbon in their biomass and sediments – the carbon stored in these coastal ecosystems is referred to as “blue carbon.” The impact of mangrove deforestation on carbon sequestration in Belize could be significant, but little is known about how much carbon is stored in Belizean mangroves. The goal of this project was to provide a preliminary assessment of the potential of blue carbon in Belize. This project was broken down into three objectives: ecology, economic, and policy. The goal of the ecology portion of this study was to provide preliminary estimates of the blue carbon stocks of Belize’s mangroves. This required data on the extent of Belizean mangroves, which were obtained from a 2010 study by Emil Cherrington and colleagues, as well from a 2014 update provided by Mr. Cherrington. Using this spatial data, four different approaches were applied to estimate the mangrove blue carbon stocks. The first was a meta-analysis evaluating the pre-existing knowledge of belowground carbon storage in mangrove ecosystems in the Caribbean. This analysis identified a linear relationship between belowground carbon storage and latitude, which was used to estimate that approximately 9.4 Tg are stored in the belowground blue carbon pool in Belize. The Blue Carbon Initiative’s Coastal Blue Carbon guidebook was used to make another estimate and this method suggests that approximately 23.3 Tg of blue carbon are stored in the mangrove forests of Belize. Using physiographic mangrove type-specific estimates from carbon studies in Mexico (Adame et al. 2013), a third estimate approximated that there are 29.6 Tg of blue carbon stored in the mangrove forests of Belize. The large variation between these initial estimates emphasized the need to complete in-country mangrove blue carbon sampling. Thus, a study was undertaken combining aboveground mangrove biomass data from the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute and soil carbon data from a field study we completed in August 2014. Although this estimate is limited in scope due to its inclusion of only two of the four blue carbon pools, this methodology suggests that there are 13.0 Tg of blue carbon stored in Belize’s mangroves. The second goal of this study was to conduct a preliminary economic analysis of the value of the blue carbon stocks and identify the factors influencing the feasibility of a blue carbon offsets project. Having an estimate of the economic costs and benefits for a blue carbon offsets program helps show the net economic value of actions to conserve or enhance mangroves. Economic analysis will help show when carbon payments can justify the cost of changing local behavior and determine how might a carbon payments project might compete with alternative land uses in Belize. Using preliminary carbon stock estimates and project criteria estimates, we conducted a case study of a net present value (NPV) analysis to determine the economic feasibility of a blue carbon offsets project for 25% of the mangroves on Turneffe Atoll. Not surprisingly, the analysis shows that a blue carbon offsets project cannot outcompete coastal development on Turneffe when the cost for land acquisition is high. Under the scenario without accounting for land acquisition cost, a carbon price greater than $10 per tCO2e is necessary to generate enough revenue to sustain the blue carbon project. The potential for Belize to enter the blue carbon market depends on three factors: the future risk of mangrove deforestation, price of land acquisition, and success of blue carbon credits. The bundling of blue carbon credits with payments for ecosystem services is a potential avenue worth exploring for future blue carbon projects. The third and final objective was to complete a preliminary assessment of the status of mangroves and mangrove conservation in Belize and policies that could promote a reduction of emissions generated by destruction of vegetation as well as increase blue carbon sequestration. We provide an assessment of the threats to mangroves and discussed issues confronting mangrove conservation in Belize. This is followed by an outline of the relevant laws, policies, agencies, and actors. We then used the Blue Carbon Policy Framework 2.0 (Herr et al. 2012) - a report that outlines options for the assimilation of blue carbon into existing policy initiatives - to identify specific actions Belize can take at the national level to facilitate blue carbon activities. We also discuss potential sources of funding for blue carbon initiatives in Belize, and potential obstacles to implementing blue carbon initiatives. A literature review coupled with interviews with officials from the Government of Belize, researchers from the field, and non-governmental organization representatives served to inform the development of this section of the report. According to the Blue Carbon Initiative, there are three high priority activities national governments should undertake to incorporate blue carbon priorities and activities into climate change mitigation efforts at the national level (Herr and Pidgeon 2012). These activities include: (1) “development of national blue carbon action plans, outlining specific national circumstances, opportunities, needs and limits;” (2) “conducting national scientific carbon, ecological and socio-economic assessments of shallow coastal marine ecosystems;” and (3) “conducting national cost-benefit analysis of including blue carbon activities into national climate change mitigation strategies” (Herr and Pidgeon 2012). In addition to these three high priority activities, the Blue Carbon Initiative brief (Herr and Pidgeon 2012) also describes additional measures developing countries should undertake to ensure mitigation activities at the national level effectively incorporate blue carbon activities. This report identifies specific actions from that brief that are applicable for Belize and provides additional actions we recommend based on our analysis.





Chang, Sylvia, Ashley Green and Emma Kelley (2015). A Preliminary Assessment of the Blue Carbon Capacity of Belizean Mangroves with Ecological, Economic, and Policy Perspectives. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9682.

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.