The aim of this work was to quantify the soil carbon storage and sequestration rates of undisturbed natural wetlands and disturbed wetlands subject to restriction of tidal flow and subsequent rehabilitation in an Australian estuary. Disturbed and undisturbed estuarine wetlands of the Hunter estuary, New South Wales, Australia were selected as the study sites for this research. Vertical accretion rates of estuarine substrates were combined with soil carbon concentrations and bulk densities to determine the carbon store and carbon sequestration rates of the substrates tested. Relationships between estuary water level, soil evolution and vertical accretion were also examined. The carbon sequestration rate of undisturbed wetlands was lower (15% for mangrove and 55% for saltmarsh) than disturbed wetlands, but the carbon store was higher (65% for mangrove and 60% for saltmarsh). The increased carbon sequestration rate of the disturbed wetlands was driven by substantially higher rates of vertical accretion (95% for mangrove and 345% for saltmarsh). Estuarine wetland carbon stores were estimated at 700–1000 Gg C for the Hunter estuary and 3900–5600 Gg C for New South Wales. Vertical accretion and carbon sequestration rates of estuarine wetlands in the Hunter are at the lower end of the range reported in the literature. The comparatively high carbon sequestration rates reported for the disturbed wetlands in this study indicate that wetland rehabilitation has positive benefits for regulation of atmospheric carbon concentrations, in addition to more broadly accepted ecosystem services.
Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science Vol. 84, Issue 1, p. 75-83