Carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation using macroalgae: a state of knowledge review

Albert Pessarrodona, Rita M Franco-Santos, Luka Seamus Wright, Mathew A Vanderklift, Jennifer Howard, Emily Pidgeon, Thomas Wernberg, Karen Filbee-Dexter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The conservation, restoration, and improved management of terrestrial forests significantly contributes to mitigate climate change and its impacts, as well as providing numerous co-benefits. The pressing need to reduce emissions and increase carbon removal from the atmosphere is now also leading to the development of natural climate solutions in the ocean. Interest in the carbon sequestration potential of underwater macroalgal forests is growing rapidly among policy, conservation, and corporate sectors. Yet, our understanding of whether carbon sequestration from macroalgal forests can lead to tangible climate change mitigation remains severely limited, hampering their inclusion in international policy or carbon finance frameworks. Here, we examine the results of over 180 publications to synthesise evidence regarding macroalgal forest carbon sequestration potential. We show that research efforts on macroalgae carbon sequestration are heavily skewed towards particulate organic carbon (POC) pathways (77% of data publications), and that carbon fixation is the most studied flux (55%). Fluxes leading directly to carbon sequestration (e.g. carbon export or burial in marine sediments) remain poorly resolved, likely hindering regional or country-level assessments of carbon sequestration potential, which are only available from 17 of the 150 countries where macroalgal forests occur. To solve this issue, we present a framework to categorize coastlines according to their carbon sequestration potential. Finally, we review the multiple avenues through which this sequestration can translate into climate change mitigation capacity, which largely depends on whether management interventions can increase carbon removal above a natural baseline or avoid further carbon emissions. We find that conservation, restoration and afforestation interventions on macroalgal forests can potentially lead to carbon removal in the order of 10's of Tg C globally. Although this is lower than current estimates of natural sequestration value of all macroalgal habitats (61-268 Tg C year -1 ), it suggests that macroalgal forests could add to the total mitigation potential of coastal blue carbon ecosystems, and offer valuable mitigation opportunities in polar and temperate areas where blue carbon mitigation is currently low. Operationalizing that potential will necessitate the development of models that reliably estimate the proportion of production sequestered, improvements in macroalgae carbon fingerprinting techniques, and a rethinking of carbon accounting methodologies. The ocean provides major opportunities to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and the largest coastal vegetated habitat on Earth should not be ignored simply because it does not fit into existing frameworks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1945-1971
Number of pages27
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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