Marine Ecosystem Rewilding: The Missing Link to Our Climate Strategy

Our oceans hold more rewilding potential for environmental recovery than any other ecosystem.

written by Diana Myers

Diana Myers

Rewilding our land has many clear benefits, however, lesser-known marine rewilding may provide even more. Is this the key to reaching our carbon neutrality targets?

What comes to mind when you read the word "rewilding?"

A country overgrown with flora? Bears and wolves, casually roaming our uncultivated spaces once again? Or maybe an image of a rewilded community, partly clothed and feral?

Terrestrial ecosystem rewilding has received a lot of attention among environmental communities over the past few years due to its powerful abilities to: 

  • Sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere
  • Reverse biodiversity loss
  • Support wildlife in its adaptation to climate change 
  • Provide economic opportunities among communities

... However, land-based rewilding isn’t the only form we have. 

In fact, there’s an option that arguably holds more potential for climate and environmental recovery and restoration, from a source that covers 71% of our planet’s surface: our oceans.

Frothy white waves are pictured on the surface of a deep blue ocean.
The ocean covers two-thirds of the planet's surface and presents opportunities for mitigating climate change.

Marine Ecosystem Rewilding: The Power of Our Oceans

While protecting and restoring marine ecosystems comes with many clear benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, coastal protection, and increased fish stocks and species, its ability to store carbon has been overshadowed by its land-based kin, forests. 

However, in the UK alone, some 500,000 km2 of shelf seas are estimated to store 205 million tonnes of carbon, which is roughly 50 million tonnes more than what all of the UK’s standing forests can hold. 

This long-term carbon storage solution via seaweeds, seabed sediments, salt marshes, and seagrass beds is called blue carbon

And guess what? 

This blue carbon rewilding process can bring our planet into an ecological state of equilibrium in a few ways.

Orange and rust coloured seaweed cover the sands which meet gentle waves on an overcast beach.
Seaweed aquaculture has been named as a 'major avenue' for climate change mitigation according to leading scientists at the Red Sea Research Centre.

Methods of Carbon Rewilding

Sequestration Abilities 

As mentioned above, the carbon storage abilities of blue carbon far surpass the benefits of terrestrial rewilding processes. In fact, the UK’s seagrass and salt marsh beds sequestration abilities are predicted to hold a carbon storage equivalent of 1,000 - 2,000 km2 of tropical forests. 

The vast array of ecosystems - from mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, to individual species such as whales, invertebrates and seaweed - can absorb CO2 just like our rainforest ecosystems. 

Just three of the UK's three blue carbon habitats – mudflats, salt marshes, and sands – are estimated to trap somewhere between "10.5 and 60.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year", as stated by the Office for National Statistics

This makes terrestrial habitats’ total CO2 sequestration of 28 million tonnes per year seem second-rate.

A salt marsh is pictured against a cloudy sunset sky.
Salt marshes are extremely efficient at sequesting carbon, one of the key techniques being used to mitigate climate change.

A Benefit to Our Economy 

By solely focusing on the UK’s three blue carbon systems, the amount of CO2 removed could provide an asset value of between £742 million and £4.259 billion. 

Not only that, but encouraging more rewilding projects by coastal communities can generate new business opportunities and income for locals and the community at large, building on the exciting concept of a nature-based economy.

A handful of euros are held up against a lush field of yellow flower crops.
Blue carbon systems will be a major step in fostering a more nature-based economy which will be essential for tackling climate change.

Take action now

Do you want to have a direct impact on climate change? Sir David Attenborough said the best thing we can do is to rewild the planet. So we run reforestation and rewilding programs across the globe to restore wild ecosystems and capture carbon.

Get involved

Meeting Our Paris Agreement Targets

It’s no secret countries are lagging (way) behind on our Paris Agreement targets. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2021 Austrian World Summit says it all. 

However, arguably, part of this lag isn't because we don't care, but because of how our brains work. 

As seen in a Harvard Business Review article, research on construal level theory suggests humans consider things or ideas that are psychologically distant from them in an abstract manner. For instance, when climate change-induced weather disasters happen in faraway places, most people treat it as an abstract concept – which is less motivating than specific or present situations. 

However, for coastal communities, marine life and coastal degradation is a real and present threat. By helping communities rewild their aquatic ecosystems, we're not only empowering communities to take charge of their future, but to mitigate 1.83 billion tonnes of CO2 through rewilded marine ecosystems – 5% of the emissions savings we must make on a global level.

An island in the Maldives is pictured from above in the middle of a vast blue ocean.
The Maldives is already seeing the affects of climate change through rising sea levels, and experts predict it will be underwater by 2050.

Increased Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Marine ecosystem rewilding can also regenerate a range of ecosystem services such as:

  • Providing oxygen for the planet
  • Removing water pollutants
  • Protecting coastal towns and communities from inevitable rising sea levels
  • Encourage rewilded ecosystems that act as nurseries for fish species that can be sustainably fished and consumed by locals
  • Provide wildlife havens
  • Serve as carbon storage (in massive quantities)

Seaweeds, in particular, are incredibly powerful when it comes to enhanced biodiversity and ecosystem services. Kelp, the largest seaweed, is a total powerhouse. 

This large, brown seaweed creates magical underwater forests offering fish habitats while cleaning the water and sequestering carbon

Mossy Earth’s Kelp Restoration 3-part Project tackles disappearing seaweed forests head-on. With help from their partner, SeaForester, they’ve begun Portugal’s seaweed forests restoration trial by using the “spore bag” seeding technique. 

Kelp, a brown type of seaweed which typically has a stalk that branches out into many strands, floats just below the waters surface.
Kelp forests are one example of marine ecosystems that are capable of sequestering large amounts of carbon.

Less Conflict

While the term “rewilding” has endured its fair share of criticism from farmers fearing loss of land and income from species introductions, marine ecosystem rewilding arguably holds less of a threat to locals’ lifestyles

When done hand-in-hand with local communities as stakeholders, rewilding our blue carbon stores offers enormous benefits and, therefore, has the potential for projects that bring people together.

A beautiful sunset looks over a jagged coastline where land meets the sea.
Marine rewilding allows communities to connect to their surroundings and live in harmony with nature-based initiatives.

The Issue: A Deep Dive Into Our Big Blue

Our oceans are a mess, to say the least. 

Out of 500 million km2, only 13% of our deep blue waters are considered marine wilderness. From commercial fishing techniques to bottom trawling and dredging, these wild waters have been stripped of life. Not only that, but the processes involved are re-suspending water carbon, reducing our ocean’s ability to absorb more CO2 while potentially releasing its stores into the atmosphere. 

So, we have a reason and a method to remedy this problem – what’s holding us back?

The role of these blue carbon solutions to support our climate battle is unrecognised by many governments. While some governments acknowledge marine carbon stores and their importance, no steadfast commitments to protect and restore blue carbon have been made. 

Is it because it's out of sight, out of mind? 

Or is it because there isn’t enough noise or pressure around the topic to create that sense of urgency governments need in order to act?

Whatever the reason, as with most pressing environmental causes, it lands on the people to bring these issues forward. 

Here’s how to do it.

An orange fishing trawler is pictured from a birds eye view in a murky blue ocean, sprawling large fishing nets.
Fishing trawlers threaten many marine ecosystems by contributing towards overfishing and habitat destruction on the seabed.

4 Steps to Support Marine Ecosystem Rewilding Projects

The truth is our oceans hold the power to reverse climate change. And with more individuals offering a hands-on approach, we can help unleash this power in our lifetime. 

Here are four steps you can take to make this marine magic happen.

Step 1: Urge your local MPs to scale ocean rewilding for blue carbon and biodiversity

Ever written to your local MP before?

It’s insanely easy. 

Check out this site to find the MP, MSP, MS, or MLA in your area (in the UK), then click on their name to view their contact info. You can write to them, call them – however you feel you communicate best. 

If you decide to email your MP, you can save your email as a template and send it to friends and family to fill out to gain more support. 

Here are some points to bring up in your conversation:

  • As outlined by the Blue Carbon Report, our governments must make at least 30% of our oceans Highly Protected Marine Areas (hpMPAs) and 10% Fully Protected Marine Protected Areas (FPMPAs) by the year 2030.
  • Our governments must also provide towing-free zones to recover our marine ecosystems and recovery of fish and shellfish.
  • Implementing blue carbon protection and restoration into your government’s environmental management and climate mitigation policies is key - mention this to your MP. 
  • Demand investment into nature-led marine management systems (for instance, removing artificial sea defences to encourage natural processes). 
A woman types onto a laptop with her phone beside her.
Writing to your MP can get your voice heard and create change.

Step 2: Reach out to a local marine ecosystem rewilding project

By either participating in, or financially supporting, a local marine ecosystem rewilding project, you can actively help create change – now. 

Which is great...because that's exactly when we need it.

Here are a few organisations you can follow for information on local rewilding projects and how to get involved: 

Mossy Earth Rewilding Projects

Rewilding Britain Projects and Local Groups 

Rewilding Europe Projects and Opportunities 

If you’re unable to join local rewilding efforts, then becoming a member of an organisation with specific rewilding projects can be just as powerful, if not more. 

Mossy Earth’s Wild Salmonids project is a great example of this. To address declining Atlantic salmon and sea trout numbers in Ireland due to lice infestation from artificial salmon aquaculture facilities, Mossy Earth has partnered with Salmon Watch Ireland for an exciting live-monitoring project

Reach out to the team or become a member to support from afar.

A kelp diver launches himself from a small boat into the ocean against beautiful sunset.
Mossy Earth's kelp restoration trial with Sea Forester along the portugese coast gets underway.

Step 3: Partake in protests that demand stopping marine environment destruction

This preventative step can help encourage government officials to step up their game whilst also spreading awareness of the issue. 

It’s likely we’ve all heard of the Extinction Rebellion (House of Commons Naked Protest, anyone?) However, their sister organisation, Ocean Rebellion, is lesser-known but equally as powerful and passionate. You can contact them here to offer support or ask about any protests in a city near you

Alternatively, local organisations such as Plastic Free Chesterfield may be more suited to your "bringing down the man" methods.

A protest sign is held up, which says: "Earth is more valuable than money".
Making your voice heard is one of the best ways to incite change.

Step 4: Spread the Word

By sharing marine ecosystem rewilding success stories on your social media feed, in conversations, or through work projects, you’re actively spreading awareness, increasing positivity, inspiring, and potentially changing, the world through your words. 

Mossy Earth’s Croatian “Baby Dragon” rewilding and cave clean-up project is one of those sharable stories. To help the rare and special animals in Croatia’s submerged caves, home to massive amounts of subterranean biodiversity, Mossy Earth partners with cave biologists and divers in a two-part project. 

An Olm, a slightly translucent orange coloured salamander swims at the bottom of a cave over brown rocks.
The Olm, one of the most evolutinary distinct anphibians known to humanity, is threatened with exctinction due to water pollution. Mossy Earth's rewilding project in Croatia is helping to clean up their habitat, with the help of local cave divers and researchers.

Storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves.

Nature Communications Study

The Future of Marine Ecosystem Rewilding

While uncultivated lands and feral humans may have been past expectations for the future of rewilding, marine ecosystem rewilding provides a different image. 

In this potential future, our wild waters are teeming with life, coastal communities thrive, our world is once again in a balanced state, and our species holds newfound respect for nature, our oceans, and its incredible restoration abilities. 

The science is there. The action steps are possible. 

It just takes a community of passionate individuals to help make it happen.

A blue whale swimming along the surface of the ocean.
Blue whales, the largest animal on the planet, are essential for maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems.

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. "Nature-Based Economies" - Rewilding Europe - External link
  2. "Information on Europe’s Marine Biodiversity" - European Environment Agency - External link

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