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Blue Carbon

If your summer vacation plans include a trip to the beach, you’ll have the chance to see our coastal blue carbon resources up close and personal. What is blue carbon, you may wonder? It’s the carbon that is stored in the plants and sediments of our coastal and marine ecosystems. For South Carolina, most of this carbon is stored in our coastal tidal marshes. Similar to the carbon that accumulates in forests and even in your garden, coastal blue carbon is the carbon locked up in the tissues of coastal plants such as Spartina alterniflora, and the carbon that builds up in the sediment, or “pluff mud,” of our marshes as plants die back in the winter and slowly decompose.

Figure 2: A view of the thick layer of pluff mud visible at low tide in a coastal salt marsh.

Figure 2: A view of the thick layer of pluff mud visible at low tide in a coastal salt marsh.
Amy Scaroni, ©2022, Clemson Extension

Plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis and store extra carbon in their tissues. Protecting the salt marsh ensures that the stored carbon can remain locked up in the plants and sediments indefinitely, which keeps it out of the atmosphere and helps to combat climate change. A healthy salt marsh also protects our coastline during hurricanes and provides habitat to numerous plants and animals.

Figure 1: A coastal salt marsh dominated by Spartina alterniflora, also known as smooth cordgrass.

Figure 1: A coastal salt marsh dominated by Spartina alterniflora, also known as smooth cordgrass.
Amy Scaroni, ©2022, Clemson Extension

The next time you find yourself on the coast, be sure to take note of the tidal marshes. They may look different depending on the tide stage and time of day, but you can be sure that a healthy marsh is always hard at work capturing and storing carbon. To learn more about blue carbon, check out HGIC 1894, Blue Carbon.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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