For the first time, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs is sponsoring a climate fellow devoted to blue carbon under the long-standing Climate Fellows program.
The new blue carbon climate fellow, Dr. Richard MacKenzie, has been a scientist at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hawaii for the past 20 years. During this time, he has worked closely with the governments and NGOs of Micronesia studying fish and invertebrate communities, carbon dynamics, and vulnerability to sea level rise in their mangrove ecosystems. He will be working with the Palau Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Environment (MAFE) in mapping, monitoring and conserving blue carbon ecosystems.
The Climate Fellows program is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and implemented by U.S. Forest Service International Programs. Climate Fellows are technical experts placed within partner country governments to work directly with local counterparts for a period of two or more years. Climate fellows provide customized, in depth, accountability enhancing support focused on natural climate solutions in close collaboration with host institutions and other national and international partners.
“I thank the US for embedding this fellowship opportunity at MAFE. Dr. MacKenzie will help us advance blue carbon opportunities for Palau and support nature-based solutions to address climate change,” said Minister Steven Victor
The Climate Fellow will also assist other Pacific Island countries in conserving blue carbon ecosystems, by creating a regional mangrove monitoring system and blue carbon knowledge exchange network.
“I am excited for this incredible opportunity to work closely with Palau and other Pacific Island nations to develop mechanisms to include blue carbon in national communications, to conduct vulnerability assessments of mangroves and seagrasses to climate change, and to develop restoration and conservation strategies. This is especially important as the role of blue carbon ecosystems continues to increase overall in climate change adaptation and mitigation,” said Dr. Richard MacKenzie, Blue Carbon Climate Fellow.
Blue carbon refers to the carbon stored in oceanic coastal ecosystems (mangrove forests, saltmarshes, seagrass beds). These ecosystems store up to 70% of the carbon found in ocean sediments despite making up less than 1% of the oceans. Mangroves and salt marshes also store more carbon than any other forested ecosystem. Conserving blue carbon ecosystems is critically important for climate change mitigation and protecting coastal livelihoods.
The U.S. Forest Service has successfully built partnerships and implemented mangrove projects in the Pacific for decades. The Forest Service has leveraged the agency’s experience in mangrove and forest restoration programs in the United States Affiliated Pacific Islands and expanded this technical assistance to other Pacific islands. The Blue Carbon Climate Fellow program will build on these activities and utilize the Forest Service’s research, monitoring, and network of partnerships across the Pacific region to successfully meet the objectives of the program.