Toxicity Translations

Group MPs Across the Globe: Blue Carbon in Belize
by Abigail McEwen -- July 21st, 2014

This summer, MEM students have traveled across the globe for summer internships associated with group Masters Projects (MPs). The “Group MPs Across the Globe” blog series will highlight their adventures living and working in various locations throughout the world. 

This week, we check in with the “Blue Carbon Capacity of Mangroves” project in Belize. 

When I think of climate change, I often think green. From “going green” to greenhouse gases and beyond, the color green is thrown around a lot in the environmental world. But what about thinking blue instead?

Like true Duke students, Emma Kelley and Sylvia Chang, two MEMs studying coastal environmental change, are doing just that. This summer, they are living and working in Belize, where they working on evaluating the blue carbon capacity of mangroves.

The country of Belize, located in Central America. Photo from the CIA World Factbook (public domain).

The country of Belize, located in Central America. Photo from the CIA World Factbook (public domain)

Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide that is captured and stored in the biomass and sediments of coastal ecosystems. One of these key ecosystems are mangroves, the trees and shrubs that grow in the salt water coasts of the tropics and sub-tropics.

Mangrove trees in San Pedro (photo by Sylvia Chang).

Mangrove trees in San Pedro (photo by Sylvia Chang)

The mangroves not only store 3 to 5 times more carbon then the land locked trees of the tropical forests, they also store this carbon 2 to 4 times faster! (Read more about this amazing carbon sequestration ability from NOAA)

A red mangrove tree (photo by Emma Kelley).

A red mangrove tree (photo by Emma Kelley)

The loss of mangroves through development, or other natural and anthropogenic processes, destroys this valuable carbon storing habitat, but worse, it also releases any stored carbon, increasing the amount of green house gases in the atmosphere and potentially contributing to global climate change.

To better understand and avoid these potential negative impacts, Kelley and Chang are working for the Belizean Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development to gather data on the existing mangrove forests. This work, funded by The Oak Foundation, is also a collaboration with Duke’s own Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Their current goals are to estimate the total amount of blue carbon these ecosystems are storing, as well as the factors that influence this process. They will use this information to evaluate the economic potential of these carbon storing ecosystems.

When not working to understand blue carbon, Kelley and Chang have been enjoying all the perks that their tropical summer home has to offer, such as a trip to the local zoo.

A silly jaguar at the Belize zoon (photo by Sylvia Chang).

A silly jaguar at the Belize zoo (photo by Sylvia Chang)

If you are a frequent blog reader, then you may have read Kelley’s travel blog, where she has published some great posts about her research and exciting travels to Caye Caulker, the Mayan Ruins, and The Belize Zoo. If not, click the links to catch up on her adventures!

The mantra on the island Caye Caulker (Photo by Syliva Chang)

The mantra on the island Caye Caulker (Photo by Sylvia Chang)

Special thanks to Emma Kelley and Sylvia Chang for letting me share their photography and research on this blog. 


  1. Robin Lane
    Jul 21, 2014

    I know that South Florida has lost many, many mangroves to development. I now understand why these trees and shrubs are so vital. Thanks for an informative blog post!

  2. Sue Elliott
    Jul 21, 2014

    excellent writing & beautiful pics. Also, thanks for reminding me where Belize is- not in news often, so had forgotten if in Central or S. America. Also, think it used to have a different name when it was a colony years ago ( when I studied geography).

  3. Ashley Green
    Aug 1, 2014

    Thank you to our advisors, Dr. Brian Silliman and Dr. Brian Murray, for their expert advice and encouragement throughout this endevour.

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