Blue Carbon Potential in Namibia – a collaborative project with the One Ocean Hub

Simon Elwen, Tara Pelembe

SAERI has been working with the Namibian Nature Foundation and University of Namibia on a range of One Ocean Hub projects around ocean health, economics, spatial planning and fisheries in Namibia. Dr Simon Elwen was appointed in Feb 2023 to undertake a review of Blue Carbon potential and projects within Namibia as part of the One Ocean Hub collaborative project.
The concept of Blue Carbon focuses around the idea of using natural marine and coastal resources to capture and sequester carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere to help limit global climate change. Much of the Blue Carbon work and opportunities to date have focused around temperate and tropical ecosystems like corals, mangrove forests and 
Namibia Sandwich Harbour © Simon Elwen
seagrass beds, but these do not grow in the cold (typically 12-16˚C) waters of the Benguela upwelling ecosystem off Namibia. However, this nutrient rich upwelling ecosystem hosts rich reserves of fish, especially small pelagic species, kelp forests and gelatinous plankton and Carbon deposits in marine sediments. Many Blue Carbon projects focus on the protection or restoration of habitats which are affected by human activities – but almost the entire Namibian coastline already falls within projected areas. So where are the potential Blue Carbon projects?
Simon and Tara Pelembe identified four key areas where the Blue Carbon concept is most relevant within Namibia.

1. Standing stocks of carbon in benthic sediments.
Namibia has some of the most carbon rich marine sediments in the world (up to 23% dry weight) thanks to the near-constant supply of organic material sinking to the seabed from the abundant zooplankton and fish life in the Benguela, combined with the unusual low-oxygen conditions that occur across much of the Namibian continental shelf. Although some data exist on the sediments, the financial and ecological value of this resource (or associated impacts thereon from e.g. fishing or mining) has never been evaluated in a Natural Capital framework.

2. Macroalgae or kelp are one of the most productive marine ‘plants’ on a global scale. 
They produce oxygen, reduce marine nutrient pollution, and act as natural barriers that help protect coastlines from erosion, while their complex three-dimensional structure provides a range of unique habitats supporting high levels of biodiversity. Over the last decade or so there has been significant investment in using macroalgae to sequester carbon, although many unknowns remain on questions like the permanence of carbon sequestration from drifting kelp and the ethics of using carbon capture from kelp when they are so vulnerable to human impacts and extreme weather events. Heavy investment in kelp aquaculture in Namibia is already helping to tackle some of these questions locally, but there is still a need for substantial baseline data including a good quality kelp occurrence data for the whole coastline.

3. Gelatinous plankton or jellyfish.
Despite being mainly constituted of water, jellyfish contain substantial amounts of carbon and the carbon component of the global biomass of gelatinous zooplankton in the upper 200 m of the ocean has been estimated at 0.038 Pg C. The Benguela ecosystem has undergone a regime shift where collapse of the pelagic fish stocks has resulted in ‘jellyfication’ of the ecosystem. Given the potentially important role of gelatinous plankton in Namibia’s carbon cycle, it would be valuable to investigate local species and conditions more explicitly with the goal of calculating species specific differences in the values of carbon and other compounds, regular assessments of their biomass, life span, deposition processes etc.

4. Fisheries.
Overfishing has long been recognized as leading environmental and socio-economic problem in the marine realm. The carbon footprint of fisheries in Namibia have not been analysed cohesively, but there are many opportunities to reduce carbon production and potentially add value to products and open new markets. Reducing fishing and rebuilding fish stocks sequesters carbon directly (through Carbon in the associated biomass), as well as increases overall ecosystem health and biodiversity. Industrial fishing is a very energy and fuel intensive industry. The global fishing fleet was estimated to use 41 billion litres of fuel in 2011 alone, while fuel costs represented 20 - 40% of the costs of Namibian hake industry. Optimisation of trip times, vessel size, equipment functioning, and overall fishing and transport efficiency all offer areas where substantial reductions in carbon (fuel) and overall costs could be generated. Trawl and dredge fisheries have been identified as the one of the most damaging and carbon intensive fisheries due to high fuel use and the impacts of disturbing seabed sediments. Impacts on Namibia’s carbon-rich sediments have not been investigated but with some sediment data already available, calculating these values is recommended as there are options to manage trawl fishing to avoid the highest carbon sediments.

Managing the oceans and our interactions with them is fundamental to limiting Global Climate Change. Although Namibia is a small country and with a similarly small carbon footprint it the terrestrial realm, the rich waters of the Benguela ecosystem mean that Namibia’s ocean has a much bigger relative role in the global carbon cycle. The Blue Carbon concept recognises this and provides a framework and motivation to prioritise carbon reduction in a global context.
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