What is the best way to protect us from climate change? Save our ecosystems.

When we think about climate change, we often think about building new infrastructure to keep the sea from lapping at our doors, or engineering new ways of moving water through drying landscapes, but in an insightful article James Watson and Tara Martin point out that if we look after our planet’s ecosystems they will look after us.   One of the examples James and Tara give to show some of the bizarre things we humans are up to, can be found in Melenesia where coral reefs are dynamited to provide the raw building materials for seawalls, in an attempt to slow the impact of sea-level rise.  If we protected the coral reefs in the first place and allowed them to fulfil the amazing array of complex ecosystem processes they perform, there would be no need to blow them up to provide building materials.  Coral reefs buffer land from storm surges reducing wave energy by up to 97%.

Our Rivers of Carbon model is one where we protect remnant intact vegetation first, and then seek to connect that vegetation along rivers to form contiguous ‘riparian’ habitat.  Riparian land is important because it is often the most fertile and productive part of the landscape, in terms of both agricultural production and natural ecosystems. It often has deeper and better quality soils, and supports a higher diversity of plants and animals than the surrounding hillslopes. Many native plants are found only, or primarily, in riparian areas, and these areas are also essential to many animals for all or part of their lifecycle. The vegetation on riparian land regulates in-stream primary production through shading; supplies energy and nutrients; and provides essential aquatic habitat by way of large pieces of wood that fall into the stream and through root-protection of undercut banks.

As we can clearly see, riparian ecosystems are incredibly important and, along with everything else they do (!), they mitigate against climate change impacts by creating micro-climates (thermal refugia) that protect and shelter terrestrial and in-stream plants and animals.   Intact riparian zones enable terrestrial and aquatic environments to connect, forming wildlife corridors that enable organisms to move throughout the landscape.  They sequester carbon, as well as filtering sediment, stabilising soil and boosting biodiversity.  Looking after our riparian areas and saving these ecosystems is really a ‘no brainer’ and it is why we are so grateful to have our partner organisations working with us across New South Wales to protect and create Rivers of Carbon.  Rivers of Carbon are, after all, Rivers of Life!

Want more?

James Watson and Tara Martin – The Conversation, February 16 2016 – The best way to protect us from climate change? Save our ecosystems.

Why Climate Change Makes Riparian Restoration More Important than Ever: Recommendations for Practice and Research

Why managing riparian land is important – Australian River Restoration Centre resources 

Rivers of Carbon – Rivers of Life – RipRap Edition 37 (packed full of great stories about why we restore rivers)