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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

About Andreas Merkl

Andreas Merkl is the President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy. Having grown up on the banks of the Rhine River in industrial northern Germany, Andreas decided at the age of 10 to dedicate his life to conservation. With a background in environmental science, resource economics and business, Andreas is particularly interested in determining the ocean’s rightful role in answering the central question of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. Andreas is never happier than when he’s out on the water and is a passionate sailor and surfer and has dived most of the world’s oceans. Follow him on Twitter @AndreasMerkl.

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The Ocean in a High CO2 World

Posted On March 25, 2013 by

Taylor Shellfish worker shucks oysters

Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.

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Help Us Shape a Vision for a Healthy Planet

Posted On March 5, 2013 by

At the Ocean Conservancy, we’re working to ensure a healthy ocean because we know that the ocean sustains us. The oxygen we breathe, the protein we eat, the moderate climates we enjoy, the joys of fishing, boating, diving and surfing, the easy global transfer of goods, and even the water we drink—all of this is thanks to the ocean. If the ocean is healthy, so are we.

Keeping it healthy is not easy, however. The only thing growing faster than our population—2 billion more people by 2040—is our consumption. The world’s population is becoming richer, and our demand for protein, energy, minerals and more, is exploding. The ocean holds the key to satisfying much of that demand, and it is thus at the very center of the most pressing challenge of our time: how do we create prosperity for all without destroying the natural world that sustains us?

We can do this, but we must first awaken to what is truly needed. In the old days, being an environmentalist meant that we sought to clean up very specific messes.  As a child, I witnessed this when the first attempts were made to clean up the Rhine River, which was a cesspool at the time—and, against all odds, we succeeded to the point that salmon were re-introduced.

But now our job is much bigger, because the distinctions we once had in the environmental movement—among people working on the ocean, on air pollution, on biodiversity, on climate change, on land use, on natural resources—are increasingly meaningless. We know that the ocean sustains us at a very existential level and that all of these natural systems are interconnected.

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Making Waves as Ocean Conservancy’s New President and CEO

Posted On February 4, 2013 by

Andreas Merkl

Photo: Paolo Vescia / Ocean Conservancy

As is the case with many career paths, my journey toward joining Ocean Conservancy as President and CEO is a long and circuitous one, and it begins with a childhood spent playing along the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. Inspired by the post-war environmental awakening in industrial northern Germany, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation.

When I graduated from high school, my father gave me 3,000 Deutsche Marks and told me to leave out of the front door of the house and return at the back door, taking the long way around. As naïve as it sounds, I started my “walkabout” in the United States by sticking my thumb in the air outside the arrivals terminal of New York City’s JFK airport and eventually hitchhiked my way across the country.

I ended up finding a more permanent home in San Francisco, where I’ve spent nearly four decades working in environmental conservation and natural resource management. That is, until last month, when I made one more long-distance move—this time to settle in Washington, D.C., and begin making some waves at an organization I’ve long admired. Continue reading »