A new collaborative research project will see the CSIRO and the eight tertiary education institutions explore the role of Australia’s coastal and marine environments in storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The $3 million project will see the CSIRO lead the group in examining the ‘blue carbon’ potential of Australia’s massive coastline.

The CSIRO Marine and Coastal Biogeochemistry Coastal Cluster was launched last week to lead the investigation.

The study will run over three years and will create new models to collect information on the ‘blue carbon’ potential of Australia’s marine environment.

 Coastal Carbon Cluster Co-Leader Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte, from the University of Western Australia (UWA), said the blue carbon project was well overdue.

"Australia's coast nurtures a large proportion of the world's seagrass and mangrove forests, but many of these have been damaged in the past," Professor Duarte said.

"Conserving and restoring our coastal habitats is a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change by rebuilding carbon sinks, while delivering valuable ecosystem services to society."

CSIRO's Dr Andy Steven said the project would be Australia's largest-ever blue carbon accounting, mapping and measurement study.

"Understanding the importance of blue carbon to Australia's ecosystems and economy is of national significance, yet currently our knowledge and estimates of national coastal carbon stocks are limited," Dr Steven said.

"Protecting and restoring coastal marine environments to store atmospheric carbon can prove more economical than forest regrowth and can boost fishery and tourism industries."

Coastal Carbon Cluster Co-Leader Professor Peter Ralph, from UTS, said there were clear advantages in using coastal vegetation to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Seagrass, mangroves and saltmarsh capture carbon up to 100 times faster than forests and store it for thousands of years," Professor Ralph said.  "Coastal vegetation occupies only 2 per cent of the world's seabed area, but is responsible for half of the carbon transfer to ocean sediments."