17 Nov
2022

OpenEarth’s First Ocean Program Whitepaper: Marine Ecosystem Credits

News

At OpenEarth, we recognize the significance of the oceans ecosystems, this is why we are innovating solutions to help conserve 30% of the global oceans by the year 2030.  Marine ecosystems face many threats such as illegal fishing, plastics, agricultural runoff, and climate change to name a few. Our team is developing advanced solutions to scale ocean conservation.

Given the specificities of ocean systems and their complexities, how do we aim to protect the ocean and its inhabitants?

We aim to build the open digital infrastructure for supporting new classes of Marine Ecosystem Credits (MEC). We will build financial mechanisms for the protection of marine ecosystems and create robust, science-backed metrics and standards that can be applied globally. Our credits are unique in that they are stackable with other types of credits, this allows us to account for the ecological values that different marine conservation efforts are targeting. Our main focus is on supporting marine protected areas (MPAs) and marine national parks, with our first pilot in Coco’s Island, Costa Rica.

Two Types of Credits for Conservation

Conservation should always precede restoration and payment schemes take this into account. Preventing the loss or degradation of a habitat or species should be paramount, but if damage has been done, then restoration is essential, and reward should reflect this. We have split our MECs into protection credits and restoration credits, allowing differing values to be placed on the type of conservation work done. The objective of our MECs is focusing on supporting MPAs and marine national parks with action-based and outcome-based credits, while establishing credit metrics and units that are adequate for the protection efforts associated with these areas. Protection and restoration credits will provide a suite of conservation actions that are necessary for maintaining all aspects of marine ecosystems, and restoring ecosystems when needed.

Key Features of Marine Ecosystem Credits

MECs are meant as environmental assets designed to support the scaling of finance for conservation of ocean ecosystems. We have designed the MEC stack and natural capital crediting system around a few key principles and concepts for scientifically rigorous, equitable and scalable.

- Modularity: the different types of MEC can be stackable and issued independently

-Dynamic: the scientific uncertainty in the credit estimation modulates the value of the credit and can change over time

-Decentralized: verification, accounting and tokenization is done using global and transparent distributed ledgers to prevent single points of failure

-Digital MRV: system includes embedded funding for Measurement, Reporting & Verification (MRV), prioritizes methodologies using remote sensing, IoT sensors and federated assessment models, and requires verifications to be carried by independent third-parties with a distinct role for local stewards

-Open: issuance through an open-source, transparent system that certifies that the credit verification (e.g. MRV) and the credit issuance are done independently

Modular and Stackable

Modular and stackable credits will allow different credit types, protection or restoration credits, to apply within a defined conservation area, which are stackable. If a conservation project achieves more than one benefit for the ecosystem, they can claim more than one credit or credit type.  For example, a project could stack one or more credit class or types, such as marine plastic credits and marine biodiversity credits.

Dynamic

Our MEC class requires embedding scientific uncertainty, which can dynamically change throughout the lifespan of a project due to either improved MRV practices or scientific knowledge. Projects that aim to conserve or restore may have uncertainty in terms of quantifying the effects. In this sense, the project provides value to the environment but we need to quantify the uncertainty and factor it into the valuation of the credit. The purpose of including scientific uncertainty in the valuation is to both reward high-quality projects and to offer a financial incentive to conduct rigorous MRV and advance the underlying scientific knowledge and ecosystem modeling.

Decentralized

The feature and design of the MEC stack design is based on decentralization. The main purpose is to prevent control for the crediting system by a single entity or coalition, which can lead to self-serving behaviors and the erosion of both trust and equity in a natural capital mechanism. Given that the MEC framework presented here is designed for a global scale in line with protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, it should support the flow of billions in financial capital towards conservation projects. The digital architecture and infrastructure underpinning such a system must ensure the highest level of trust and assurance.

Decentralization helps provide scalable and equitable mechanisms. A key factor is incorporating local communities in the consultation and participation of conservation efforts, as well as credit issuance and payment mechanisms. Local communities depend on healthy marine habitats and species, therefore they can play an important role as stewards in the ecological protection and management of the area.

Monitoring, Reporting and Verification

A credit’s value and trustworthiness is directly related to the scientific soundness of the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) methodology and its robust execution. With costly MRV and the need for clear and accurate data and documentation, we propose methods to address these issues. As such, our MEC class holds three features: digitization, prioritization and democratization.

Open

-Open Architecture

-Open Access and peer-revision

-Open Core API

-Open Data Taxonomies and Spatial protocols

-Open Verification of the digital MRV process

-Open Governance

Marine Ecosystem Credit Types

Previously, you read about the stackability of credits, within the same credit type or between different credit types. We start with four main credits for the MEC stack, with the potential for expansion into other credit types in the future.

-Marine Biodiversity

-Marine Plastics

-Eutrophication

-Marine Carbon

These credits represent key aspects of ecological value and are particularly important when designing mechanisms to scale conservation finance for MPAs.  Each credit type has its own metric of value, however, for credits to be ‘stackable’, they must reference a common baseline unit of assessment defined in terms of space and time: a squared kilometer of marine area over 1 year period. This allows a single MPA to have multiple credits that add up within the same region, but consider the different subregions and habitats within the boundary of the MPA.

Marine Biodiversity Credits

Our goal in this credit type is to build a “global scale” of marine biodiversity credit that is scientifically sound, equitable and that helps support the financial efforts going into conservation, meaning it must be scalable. For these reasons, for our first marine biodiversity credit prototype, we are factoring in species diversity and ecosystem resilience in our metrics, with a focus on consistency and standardization.

Marine Plastics

Plastics end up in the ocean in a variety of ways and in varying forms. Whole plastics and microplastics can be seen in marine ecosystems globally, with negative impacts on the overall health of the ecosystem. Removal of these plastics is considered a restoration credit, and projects that remove plastics from ocean circulation can claim credits.  

Eutrophication

Eutrophication is a process produced by increased runoff from nutrients from land into waterways. It can produce a whole host of negative effects, including harmful algal blooms, dead zones, fish kills and biodiversity loss. Most nutrient runoffs are produced by agriculture fertilizers, but other anthropogenic factors and industrial activity contribute as well.  Establishing a MEC that encourages and rewards protection efforts to prevent eutrophication, as well as restoration efforts after eutrophication occurs is an important aspect for ocean conservation.

Blue Carbon

Blue Carbon credits consider the reduction of greenhouse gas sources or the enhancements of sinks by coastal and ocean ecosystems. It is currently the most established practice in ecosystem credits, particularly on coastal projects that use a nature-based sequestration such as kelp or seagrass. While there are uncertainties in blue carbon, and many MPAs that are not coastal, further research needs to be done. We see that Blue Carbon promises to be an important credit type for some MPAs and marine parks and is why this credit type remains a focus in the MEC framework.

You can read more in depth information in our Marine Ecosystem Credits Whitepaper here. Learn more about how we are innovating solutions to marine conservation and their key pathways to achieving 30% protection of the ocean by 2030.

Learn more about our Ocean Program here

Join us online on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn

Stay up to date

Sign up for our newsletter and stay in touch.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
topographic lines in the background