My experience as an Early Career Visiting Professional fellow in 2022

By Mir Kashem

My name is Mir Kashem, and I work as a Scientific Officer in the Division of Environmental Oceanography and Climate, at the Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute. I am currently conducting research on the blue carbon stock assessment of mangroves and tidal salt marshes in coastal area of Bangladesh and its implications for climate change.

I was delighted to be chosen for the IORA Blue Carbon Hub Early Career Visiting Professional program 2022. The IORA Blue Carbon Hub is extremely effective and has assisted in the growth of blue carbon research in the nations that border the Indian Ocean. Therefore, I believed that this program would be a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my knowledge in blue carbon.

Figure 1. 2022 Early Career Visiting Professionals with the director (Dr. Mat Vanderklift) of the IORA Blue Carbon Hub. (From Left to right Tia Loureiro, Mat Vanderklift, Mussa Ngosha, Karizki Hadyanafi, Mir Kashem Upal Mahmud and me (Mir Kashem)).

Bangladesh experiences severe natural disasters due to the effects of global climate change on sea level rise, the frequency of strong cyclones, storm surges, coastal flooding and saline water intrusion. Climate change increases the frequency and severity of these natural calamities. Bangladesh only contributes to 0.4% of the global greenhouse gas (World Bank, 2022) but substantially suffers from harmful consequences, affecting the economy. But Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest — the Sundarbans — which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it as organic carbon in the soil, a process which plays a very important role in mitigating climate change.

There has not been much research on blue carbon ecosystems within Bangladesh, especially in the Sundarbans and other coastal regions of Bangladesh. Many questions need to be answered such as: how much organic carbon is stored in the soil of mangrove forests and saltmarsh, how much is accumulated every year, what role is blue carbon playing in mitigating climate change and to what extent are these mangrove forests and saltmarshes at risk due to global climate change? Keeping these questions in mind, I proposed a project looking at the carbon sequestration capacity of saltmarsh and mangrove soils and their responses to climate change in the eastern coast of Bangladesh.

Research Overview

My study area was the eastern coastal region of Bangladesh, especially the mangrove forests and saltmarshes of Maheshkhali channel in Cox’s Bazar district, the mangrove forests and saltmarshes of Rejukhal, and the mangrove forests and saltmarshes of Naf River located on the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar. I collected soil samples from the area before the training commenced. Unfortunately, due to delays in exporting the samples I had to leave the soil samples in Bangladesh and leave for Australia. Towards the scheduled end of my visit my soil samples arrived and went through the quarantine process. My visit was extended by another three weeks so that I could analyze the organic carbon of my soil samples. I determined the soil organic carbon of my samples using the Loss on Ignition (LOI) method, in the CSIRO laboratory facilities. I also acidified a set of samples to measure organic and inorganic carbon of the soil samples using an elemental analyzer at the West Australian Biogeochemistry Centre. At the time of writing this, I’m awaiting those results.

Figure 2. Preparation of soil samples from mangroves and tidal salt marshes for blue carbon stock assessment.

During my visit I also learned how to classify mangroves and apply a mangrove ecosystem risk assessment using Google Earth Engine (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Mangrove distribution on a deltaic coast of Bangladesh (map developed using Google Earth Engine)

Analysis of the soil samples using the LOI (%) method revealed that the soil of mangrove forests and saltmarshes of the study area have substantial organic carbon. Of the places that I surveyed, the mangrove soil of Jalia Island in the Naf River has the highest carbon storage. However, satellite observations show that in the Naf River, at the end of Teknaf where there are mangrove forests, the soil has been eroded, which is a threat to the mangrove forests as well as to the carbon accumulated in the soil. This result indicates a need to work on mangrove monitoring and restoration in this region.

Figure 4. Land erosion and accretion of mangroves in the Naf Estuary, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Program Overview

I have been given a priceless opportunity to develop my career thanks to the IORA Blue Carbon Hub Early Career Visiting Professionals program. We had the opportunity to collaborate with scientists and focus on our individual research projects. I increased my knowledge of computational techniques for blue carbon studies, including ArcGIS, R programming, remote sensing, mapping using Google Earth Engine, and DSAS (Mangrove Ecosystem Risk Assessment). Mat, Lauren, and Mark have my heartfelt gratitude and respect for their excellent leadership of this Blue Carbon training.

This training has allowed me to meet talented and hardworking individuals such as Tai, Mussa, Kariz, and Upal. I am thankful to Yusmiana (PhD Student, UWA) and Sundy (a visitor to the Hub from Mauritius) for their excellent lab training, particularly in soil sample analysis. Daniel Gorman is a very nice and knowledgeable person who made it possible for me to visit Brisbane and participate in a training workshop where I learnt about practical sampling of mangroves and seagrasses. I sincerely believe that Mat will pay close attention to the development of blue carbon research in Bangladesh and play a special role in this regard. I wish the IORA Blue Carbon Hub a long and prosperous life.

Figure 5: With Mark Wilson, Dan Gorman, Anna Lafratta and Professor Catherine Lovelock on Stradbroke Island, Queensland as part of the Pacific Blue Carbon Program training

Mir Kashem

Scientific Officer, Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute (BORI) Ministry of Science and Technology