27 March 2024 by Max Bodmer


Developing Marine Biodiversity Credit Projects 

The marine environment comprises 99% of habitable space on Earth yet receives only a tiny fraction of the total global biodiversity conservation budget. If we are to achieve our goals of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2050 marine conservation spending must increase by two-orders of magnitude. Increased funding will facilitate the expansion of the global network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and improve the efficacy of existing MPAs that currently operate as ‘paper parks’. A recent cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Institute for Environmental Studies estimated that US$223-228 billion is required to ensure that 30% of the ocean is in effectively managed MPAs by 2050, with the resultant protection of ecosystem services securing benefits in the range of US$719-1,145 billion. 


So Where Will This Money Come From?

With the exception of seagrass meadows and mangroves, marine ecosystems have low carbon storage and sequestration potential meaning they have largely been excluded from the carbon market. This exclusion has prevented significant private investment and there is now an urgent need to establish alternative financial mechanisms that will allow the 100s of billions of dollars required to protect marine environments to flow from the private sector into ocean conservation. Biodiversity credits could provide marine conservationists with the financial tools to establish effective seascape scale protection and restoration initiatives. However, the nascent nature market is currently mostly focused on developing biodiversity credit projects in terrestrial environments because of the unique challenges posed by marine environments. If we are serious about protecting 30% of the ocean by 2050 we need to start to tackle these issues rather than shy away from them. 


The Challenge: Global Versus Local Threats

Factors reducing biodiversity can be broadly divided into global and local threats. Global threats are the factors that negatively impact all ecosystems regardless of their geographic location, e.g. ocean warming and acidification. Local threats are environmental factors that reduce biodiversity in a specific location, e.g. overfishing or oil spills. Tackling the root causes of global threats is incredibly complex and must happen at a governmental level, therefore most conservation projects focus on mitigating local threats within well-defined project boundaries.  

Whilst terrestrial environments are threatened by the global phenomenon of climate change, the major factor causing biodiversity decline is agricultural expansion leading to deforestation and deep-ploughing of grasslands. This land-use conversion is a local threat that can be mitigated through the establishment of farmer payment schemes and provision of alternative sustainable livelihoods that can be funded relatively easily through the generation and sale of biodiversity credits.  

Conversely, whilst marine ecosystems are threatened by local phenomena, the main drivers of biodiversity decline are the global threats of ocean warming and acidification. Rising ocean temperatures are altering the metabolism of marine organisms which impacts breeding behaviours and causes the collapse of food webs, and ocean acidification is decreasing the availability of calcium carbonate in the water which is a key compound required by most marine life for skeleton formation. Biodiversity credits can be used to fund initiatives that mitigate local threats from specific areas which will increase ecosystem resilience and resistance to the global threats but ultimately the impacts of climate change will not be removed. This means that biodiversity declines are inevitable in even the most well-designed biodiversity credit funded marine projects.  


Resilience Credits?

For biodiversity credits to work in marine environments perhaps we need a new type of credit which accepts that global threats cannot be mitigated on a local-scale and therefore rewards projects for slowing biodiversity declines through the establishment of interventions that remove local threats and increase ecosystem resilience. This approach may facilitate the survival of marine species and ecosystems through a period of extreme stress that represents an existential threat whilst the political and technological solutions required to mitigate the global threats associated with human-induced climate change are developed and scaled. 

rePLANET is working to address many of the challenges associated with developing marine biodiversity credit funded project but does not yet have definitive solutions. We therefore recognise the necessity of stimulating global discussion about the best way to use nature-based solutions in marine environments to unlock the private sector investment that our oceans so desperately need. 

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