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East Coast State Legislators Begin Investigations on Ocean Acidification

Posted On May 9, 2014 by

Photo: Ted Van Pelt with Creative Commons License

When people think about the state of Maine, images of lobsters and lighthouses usually spring to mind. For the state of Maryland, people think of blue crab and the rivers feeding into the Chesapeake Bay.  Both states are closely associated with rich maritime traditions, however a change in ocean chemistry is rapidly occurring that could jeopardize not only their maritime way of life, but also the jobs and economic benefits that the ocean and coastal waters provide.

Ocean acidification is caused by carbon pollution from factories, cars, and power plants being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. In fact, the ocean absorbs roughly 30% of all carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere, and local pollution running off from the land into coastal areas can make acidification worse. Animals that have shells, like oysters, clams, mussels and crabs have trouble surviving in increasingly acidic water. In the Pacific Northwest  ocean acidification has damaged these animals, contributing to billions of baby oyster deaths, significantly impacting the hatcheries and oyster operations in these regions. The impact of ocean acidification on other animals, such as lobsters and fish, are not well understood.

This uncertainty has caused ocean users and legislators to sit up, take notice and begin to act. I have recently discussed ocean acidification with fishermen and shellfish growers at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum, and have also attended a legislative hearing on ocean acidification in Maryland. The unknown ramifications of this environmental issue in these forums were a definite concern.

Since lobsters, blue crabs, and other marine resources are so vital to the waterfront economies of Maine and Maryland respectively, in the last week, their state legislatures have both passed bills forming a commission and task force to study the impacts of ocean acidification on each state’s coastal ecosystems and commercial shellfish industries.

Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson

These commissions are similar to a panel set up by Washington State in that they seek to identify the factors driving ocean acidification, how to mitigate it, how to enhance research and monitoring and how to protect shellfish and other important coastal species. This great, pragmatic first step by state leaders to understand and reduce any threats to the iconic livelihoods of these states was made possible by the hard work and support of concerned local businesses and groups such as the Island Institute in Maine, and National Aquarium in Maryland.

As we have become aware of the concerns from people on the water in Washington, Maine, Maryland and other states, we have informed you of these issues, and asked for your support to let decision-makers know you care about our oceans. Last month Ocean Conservancy asked for people like you to contact your Members of Congress to support funding for ocean acidification research on a national scale and as a result, more than 40,000 letters were sent to 534 elected officials who represent all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A number of representatives and senators have heeded your messages and have gone on to personally support this research funding.

Thank you for reading, caring and acting—not only for our oceans, but also for the people and communities who rely on those ocean waters for their livelihoods. And congratulations to Maine and Maryland —In the future, we hope to congratulate other coastal states working to address ocean acidification too!