Q&A with Blue Carbon Expert Dr. San Diego-McGlone

July 3, 2023

Blue carbon sink resources such as mangrove ecosystems are abundant in the Philippines, boasting up to 39 true mangrove species. However, the interest and knowledge on blue carbon are limited only to a select few who study it. At Wovoka, we aim to spearhead projects that are centered on the conservation and development of blue carbon stores. We firmly believe in the role they play in offsetting carbon dioxide emissions, essential in achieving the Net Zero Goal by 2050.

Blue Carbon Expert

Last May 2023, the Wovoka team had the honor of interviewing Dr. Maria Lourdes “Malou” San Diego-McGlone. She is a renowned Filipino scientist and a Professor Emeritus at the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines. She specializes in chemical oceanography and focused on eutrophication and ocean acidification.

As she progressed through her career, she developed an interest in blue carbon as a natural way to mitigate ocean acidification. Throughout her career, she has worked on blue carbon projects, including BlueCARES, a collaboration between researchers from Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines focusing on the conservation of coastal ecosystems and mitigation of global warming through blue carbon strategies in the Coral Triangle Region.  

Through our interview, Wovoka gained a clearer view of the current state of blue carbon studies in the Philippines. Working with researchers is one of the many that our company is actively involved in to help us identify gaps in blue carbon projects in the country. 

Keep reading below to learn more about the experiences of a Blue Carbon Expert in the Philippines!

Dr. San Diego-McGlone teaching the monitoring team from the local government of Bolinao, Pangasinan how to collect plankton samples.

How did you start your work in blue carbon?

Towards the end, before I retired, blue carbon was the last project I worked on, which is a very natural progression because I was working with ocean acidification. So the next question in mind is: how do you mitigate or lessen the impact of ocean acidification? Blue carbon ecosystems would be a natural way to mitigate ocean acidification or carbon dioxide increase. I thought that was a nice way to go from one to the other.

How does your line of work help in blue carbon research in the Philippines?

One output from my work is to build a lab that can help capacitate people to do blue carbon work. The lab can measure carbon content from the blue carbon ecosystems. So aside from the facilities, we also had researchers and students who became interested in blue carbon work and even ocean acidification. We planted the seed and hopefully, it grows and prospers.

What gap are you trying to address through your work?

When I look back, I said I was interested in eutrophication or pollution — nutrient inputs into marine systems and into water bodies. Then, I realized that if there is a lot of nutrient input, there would be a lot of organic matter produced. In the decomposition process, carbon dioxide is released. Carbon dioxide actually makes the water acidic, so eutrophication itself is linked to ocean acidification.

The ocean acidification we know of globally is caused by carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels. However, coastal acidification is happening where there is high eutrophication because carbon dioxide combines with water to produce carbonic acid. This carbonic acid causes the water to be acidic.

For instance, I saw in our study site in Bolinao, Pangasinan where mariculture has become considerable and uncontrolled, that waters have become eutrophic and acidic thereby causing a negative impact on corals and other marine organisms.

In terms of addressing a gap, one has to be mindful of what’s happening in the environment. I realized that these blue carbon ecosystems are really doing a good job at capturing and storing carbon, and the decimation of our mangroves and seagrass (blue carbon ecosystems) in the Philippines is something to worry about.

How would you describe the current state of blue carbon in the Philippines?

Blue carbon is a relatively new concept for everyone. There is an increasing interest in blue carbon nationally, locally, and globally because of the role it can play to offset carbon dioxide increase. But, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of raising people’s awareness and motivating the local government to do something, especially those with a lot of potential for blue carbon conservation.

There is some research on blue carbon, but we still lack an inventory or assessment of the extent of our ecosystems. In order to go into the carbon credit and carbon offset business, we have to know how much we can offer. We have to actually quantify our blue carbon ecosystems.

How can private companies help with pushing blue carbon forward?

I think the simplest way would be reforestation efforts for companies that actually produce carbon dioxide. It would also be good if they start getting materials for kids to learn and sponsoring environmental contests for art, concept, and ideas for conservation; more information and education campaigns. Considering that we still need an inventory of how much resources or assets we have as far as blue carbon is concerned, large-scale initiatives might focus on that first.

What are the common misconceptions about blue carbon that can be problematic in the long run if not addressed?

I think it’s important to recognize the green carbon-blue carbon link. What happens in the coastal area is affected by what happens in upland forests and mountains (terrestrial ecosystems). Blue carbon ecosystems should not be separated from other ecosystems. Everything is linked so the issue should not be addressed separately. It has to be more holistic.

What factors supported the success of the BlueCARES project?

We were able to bring in the local academic institutions. They were the ones who helped implement the project in their area. I think you have to involve local partners because they play a big role in sustaining the project at the local level, especially after project completion. It also helped that we had financial and technical support, so it was a good collaborative effort.

What are key lessons learned from the project that can be used by researchers moving forward?

On the local level, it’s good to partner with universities that will carry the project through. On the national level, we should ensure that agencies such as DENR and the Climate Change Commission will sustain the output of the project. Hence, it is necessary to involve them early on or at the project's onset.

Main Takeaways

After the interview concluded, our team had three key takeaways that can help in directing efforts when working on blue carbon in the Philippines. 

1. First, a comprehensive assessment of the blue carbon stock in the country is a must to set the foundation for carbon credit and offset business. Attracting investors will continue to be a challenge without clearly identifying the value of our blue carbon stores.

2. Second, driving information on blue carbon is equally as important as developing blue carbon projects. By informing the public and leveraging their capacity to contribute to the success of blue carbon initiatives, the sustainability and longevity of projects can be promoted and upheld. 

3. Third, the collaboration between public and private entities is pivotal to the success of blue carbon projects as both parties provide necessary resources and input that support various efforts and initiatives.

Moving Forward

Wovoka is committed to learning more about blue carbon from the lens of experts who have dedicated their careers to developing the industry. By developing the right collaborations set with the right intentions, we are optimistic that our journey will be a productive one.

We move forward with the knowledge that blue carbon is yet to be taken further in the Philippines, but we are no longer starting from scratch. Every step forward must be well calculated and thoughtfully decided to ensure we are going in the right direction.

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