The ocean’s power to help

By Opinion Time of article published Jun 8, 2021

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By Céline Cousteau

To me, the ocean is many things. As an environmentalist, a nature lover and a mother, it’s an invaluable resource, home to some of the world’s most incredible and rich species, and an absolute wonder for my 9-year-old son.

As an explorer, it’s a source of inspiration and adventure, and the host of many fond memories. As The TreadRight Foundation's ‘Planet’ Ambassador, it’s an enormous source of hope for the future of our planet.

Today on World Oceans Day, we typically educate and advocate for the protection of our world’s ocean waters and habitats, scaring scores of readers with doom and gloom through the litany of risks facing our oceans. Instead, I’d prefer to instill hope for the potential within our oceans to right some of our most egregious wrongs.

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The wellbeing of humanity is tied to the wellbeing of this planet. The list of challenges we collectively face, through our own actions, can feel endless. The list of solutions, however, is steadily growing, and when addressing solutions for climate change, we may have to look no further than the waters that surround us - the oceans.

Our oceans do need our protection, not only for the reasons we know, but for the massive potential they hold. We need to eliminate the eight million pieces of daily plastic waste that pollute our waterways and destroy natural ecosystems and to do this we need to go to the source of the long-term solution: prevention.

But we wouldn’t be telling the whole story if our discussion left out the fact that, through restoration, we are unlocking a natural means to mitigate humanity’s excessive carbon footprint. Restoring our oceans now will help us harness the natural tools we already have to empower climate action.

According to Wildlife Trust’s “Let Nature Help” report, natural climate solutions could provide over a third of the cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030, while oceans absorb 20-35% of human-made CO2 emissions every year.

Just last month, the UK announced new regulations backing the path of restoring nature as a viable means for carbon removal, via ac“net zero” equivalent for nature, and both the USA and Canada recently committed to conserving 30% of their respective country’s land and oceans by 2030 and implementing nature-based solutions to fight climate change.

I believe in big, bold ideas based in nature and backed by science. I believe each one of us is the solution. I believe in telling positive stories that the world needs to hear.

This is why I’ve worked with The TreadRight Foundation for the past ten years. As the non-profit arm of The Travel Corporation (TTC), TreadRight Foundation supports sustainable travel initiatives across the world. I have the opportunity to help tell the stories of these amazing projects working to restore our earth.

Two of these projects are marine based carbon removal solutions, GreenWave and Project Vesta. Both projects, announced in April of this year, were chosen specifically for the way they support TTC’s climate goals, as laid out in the company’s Climate Action Plan.

As a major travel group including brands such as Trafalgar, Contiki, Insight Vacations and Uniworld River Cruises – climate change is a critical issue – both for the way in which travel contributes to the issue, and to the myriad of new and developing solutions.

Beyond the massive undertaking of carbon removal, TTC and TreadRight’s first carbon removal partner GreenWave endeavors to prove that zero input farming has numerous benefits, and that we can’t ignore the critical need for our oceans to be healthy. Actor and activist Woody Harrelson agrees: regenerative agriculture is “a simple solution—a way to heal our planet” (Kiss the Ground, 2020).

GreenWave is a regenerative ocean farming organization studying how kelp can be added to soil to increase its carbon storage potential while decreasing harmful nitrous oxide emissions on regenerative land farms. Kelp has strong potential to reduce both the need for nitrogen additives (fertiliser) on agricultural crops and nitrous oxide emissions in soils.

This is progress that would have significant implications for climate benefit, as it counters the concern that increasing the amount of carbon that soil naturally stores can result in increased nitrous oxide emissions – 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions.

If GreenWave’s pilot proves that kelp can both reduce the need for nitrogen additives (fertiliser)and reduce nitrous oxide emissions while increasing the amount of carbon we rely on to be stored naturally in soil, regenerative ocean and land farms can work together to have a net climate benefit. This would add another impactful nature-based solution to the fight against climate change.

Project Vesta is exploring the natural power of the ocean as a carbon sink, while tackling the problem of ocean acidification. The organization is on a mission to harness the natural power of the oceans to remove a trillion tonnes of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through acceleration of the earth’s natural weathering process. They do this by taking olivine, a naturally occurring abundant rock found on every continent. They crush it up and move it to beaches or coastal areas where it can be broken down further by wave action.

As the olivine sand breaks down, carbon dioxide is removed from the air and becomes bicarbonate, which is used by marine organisms in their shells and eventually ends up as limestone on the ocean floor. Not only does this remove carbon from the air, but the process naturally reduces ocean acidity. Research has demonstrated that the chemistry of this process works and provides strong evidence that it is a highly affordable and scalable solution. Project Vesta estimates that if deployed on just 0.25% of global shelf seas, olivine could capture 1 gigatonne (GT) of carbon dioxide per year. One GT is the amount of carbon that could be sequestered by more than 16 billion tree seedlings grown for 10 years. They currently have pilot beaches in the Caribbean and are studying a natural olivine sand beach in Hawaii. When Project Vesta has validated that the process works and is ecologically sound, they will share their results so that Coastal Carbon Capture can be replicated in coastal areas worldwide.

Both projects, which harness the power of the ocean to ultimately benefit people, wildlife and the future of our planet, show us that the solutions we’re looking for already exist, provided to us by nature. I call on governments and businesses worldwide to seek out these solutions and help them scale so that we may all benefit.

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