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Ocean Acidification is About What We Eat

Posted On May 2, 2013 by

A Seattle Chef prepares crisp smelt while learning about the local impacts of ocean acidification – credit Zach Lyons

Earlier this April, Ocean Conservancy and the Seattle Chefs Collaborative co- hosted an event featuring what was probably the most delicious seafood in the world. The Seattle Chef’s Collaborative is a local chapter of a national organization that brings chefs together to meet, learn, and advocate. They are not a traditional conservation organization, but in this case were gathered to talk about little-known local species, a problem called ocean acidification, and to enjoy their colleagues’ creations featuring the very species discussed.

Ocean acidification, caused by rising CO₂ emissions being absorbed by the ocean can be a pretty daunting topic.  We are always asking ourselves, “how do we move this conversation from small groups of scientists and managers to the bus stops and dinner tables where most of us hang out”

Well, everyone has to eat, and for the most part, they enjoy doing so.

Some of our most favorite, most iconic species are oysters and shellfish.  So when you start to think that some of our activities on land might be jeopardizing those things in the ocean that we love, we get worried.   My colleague George Leonard spoke on a panel at the Edible Institute, a yearly gathering of leaders in the local food movement last month in Santa Barbara, and received a warm welcome connecting ocean acidification and the seafood on our plates:

“The audience wanted to know more, and was concerned that ocean acidification is not only affecting shellfish today but poses a serious threat to the broader ocean food web we all depend on.”

Local seafood — geoduck and herring, made for non-traditional but delicious sushi

My experience in Seattle was the same. Beyond getting to talk with interesting chefs and restaurateurs and enjoy amazing seafood and wine, it was most exciting to hear how interested and concerned they are about ocean acidification and its impacts on local food and businesses.  Right now oysters and oyster growers are living with the impacts of acidification – corrosive water nearly brought the Pacific Northwest industry to its knees.  Washington State is now the first state to tackle ocean acidification at a state level – Former governor Chris Gregoire convened an expert panel to address ocean acidification and provided $3.31 million for state efforts.   We recently made a video telling Washington’s story through the people most affected.

A growing body of science is telling a tale of changes in the ocean that could threaten  entire ecosystems from salmon to narwhales, and everyone who depends on them for livelihood, dinner, culture, or recreation. Chefs and other food-industry advocates are well-suited to talk about this subject and connect with others on it.  Not only do they depend on seafood for their art and livelihood, but they are natural story-tellers with an intuitive understanding of the connection between the natural world and our plates.

As we move forward facilitating discussion, educating on the threats, and promoting action to alleviate the ecologic and societal damages of ocean acidification and other ocean issues, it’s important that we remember why groups like chefs are so valuable and necessary to the tell the stories.  It’s the stories, the people, and the experiences that truly motivate and impassions not only the public and the policymakers, but ourselves as well.