National Estuarine Research Reserve System
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Bringing Wetlands to Market in Massachusetts
Coastal wetlands as carbon markets
What's happening?

A project led by the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (WBNERR) received $1.3 million to generate science and management tools with the potential to bring coastal wetlands into international carbon markets and incen­tivize investment in tidal wetland restora­tion and preservation.

For detailed information about this project's progress, visit the web site created by the team at You can also download this pdf to learn more about how the Science Collaborative is working to share the results of this project with the Reserve System.

This three-year project is examining the relationship between salt marshes, climate change, and nitrogen pollution. Through a blend of targeted science, modeling, and broad stakeholder input, the team is generating information and tools that coastal decision makers can use to manage nitrogen pollution, design effective wetlands protection and restora­tion projects, and create policy frame­works and economic incentives to reduce greenhouse gas.

Anticipated tools include a carbon offset protocol and guidance for coastal wetland projects for use in Massachusetts and across the country, a model that develop­ers, municipal officials, and nonprofits can use to estimate a project’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas, and an analysis of the economic impact (positive or nega­tive) of different wetland restoration and development scenarios.

Why this project?

Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and meth­ane are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. While it is well known that forests store large amounts of carbon from greenhouse gases, research indicates that coastal wetlands might capture and store carbon at rates three to five times greater than forests. Research also suggests that nitrogen pollution from septic systems, stormwater runoff, and airborne pollution can significantly com­promise a wetland’s ability to store carbon. In extreme cases, wetlands may even become sources of greenhouse gas and contribute to climate change.

Bringing wetlands into carbon markets requires better understanding of the flux of carbon and greenhouse gas in coastal wetlands and the influence of nitrogen on that flux. If data from the three-year study bears this out, it will strengthen incentives for reducing the amount of nitrogen pollution flowing into coastal wetlands by creating market-based incentives for restoration.

Project FAQs

Download a project overview (PDF)

What’s new?
Read the latest progress report

If you would like to stay in touch with this project, contact our program coordinator Cindy Tufts or visit the project's web site.

Who needs the science?
Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Conservation International
The Nature Conservancy
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program
Town of Barnstable
Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration
Restore America's Estuaries
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Who's on the project team?

Waquoit Bay NERR
Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory
USGS Coastal and Marine Geology
USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center
University of Rhode Island Biological Sciences

Where can I learn more?
For questions about the applied science aspect of this project, contact:
Alison Leschen, NERR manager: 508.457.0495, ext 103

For questions about the collaborative process, contact:
Tonna-Marie Surgeon-Rogers, NERR Coastal Training Program coordinator: 508.457.0495, ext 110

     Last Updated on: Monday, December 10, 2012
Science Collaborative
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