News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Sarah Cooley
Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. joined Ocean Conservancy as a Science Outreach Manager in the Ocean Acidification program in January. Previously, she was a research scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Three years ago, I teamed up with an economist, a human geographer, and another ocean acidification scientist to lead a study that would identify ocean acidification “hotspots” around the United States – places where ocean changes will be large and coastal communities depend heavily on shellfish harvests, but where people don’t have many resources to guard against losses of these harvests. We gathered a group of 20 science and policy experts to study the issue at the National Science Foundation-funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Since then, we’ve synthesized information about the oceanography, shellfish harvests, and coastal communities across the United States in a formal risk assessment. We’ve just published our results in Nature Climate Change this week.
Pink shrimp raised in tanks that simulate the more acidic ocean expected in the future just don’t taste right, according to a recently published research paper from Sweden. For the first time, a scientific study has looked at the effects of future ocean conditions on the taste of seafood.
Teaming up with a professional chef, the researchers cooked and served local shrimp that had been raised for three weeks in high carbon dioxide conditions alongside shrimp raised in regular conditions. Volunteer taste testers then tried both kinds of shrimp and scored them on appearance, texture, and taste.
Ocean acidification didn’t affect texture at all, but it significantly hurt the shrimps’ appearance and taste scores. Shrimp raised under regular conditions were more than three times as likely to be rated the best shrimp on the plate, and the shrimp raised with high carbon dioxide levels were about three times as likely to be rated the worst on the plate.
It’s been a depressing few weeks in ocean news. I’ve seen lots of downer headlines lately about new studies saying we’ve “screwed the oceans” with carbon dioxide pollution, left a dirty “bathtub ring of oil” in the Gulf of Mexico, and dumped so much plastic in the ocean that whales are choking to death. Plus I can’t escape the bickering in every media outlet about whether or not the carbon emissions agreement between U.S. and China means anything. You’re probably exhausted by it all too. But before you totally tune out, thinking that the ocean’s problems are just TOO big, let me tell you why I haven’t given up on the ocean.
As you know, I’m a scientist, so I like to think first about how science will help us out of this fix. My colleagues and I have been working on ways to break down what puts individual communities at risk for ocean acidification. We did this recently for Alaska, and now we’re finishing a similar study for the whole United States. Turns out, it’s not just oceanography that puts human communities at risk – it’s also the ways humans depend on marine harvests, and the ways communities are put together socially. This is great news for community leaders, who can encourage future regional development that will decrease these risks. The scientists who reported on the Gulf’s oily bathtub ring also point out that their research sheds light on how oil moves and breaks down in deep water, which offers ways to “avoid and mitigate oil spills in the future.” This is great news for accident response planners and restoration experts. And finally, studies of how marine animals eat plastic debris does shed light on how these animals hunt and behave (a tiny silver lining in a very, very, dark cloud), but most importantly, these studies have grabbed everyone’s attention. People around the world are appalled by this. And as a result, there is a growing movement to address ocean trash that is co-led by plastics manufacturers.
“Ocean acidification is a pocketbook issue here. It’s about dollars and cents and jobs,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in Massachusetts at Monday’s conference on Ocean Acidification and Southern New England. Organized by the Woods Hole Research Center, this workshop brought together fishermen, planners, ocean acidification experts, and policymakers to jumpstart action on ocean acidification. Mayor Mitchell noted, “There is no more appropriate place to discuss ocean acidification” than in New Bedford, where smart fisheries management has led to a scallop boom. In fact, the city is the sea scallop harvest capital of the U.S. and its port consistently brings in the highest commercial fishery revenue in the country each year.
The workshop began reviewing the science of ocean acidification as it relates to Massachusetts’ oceanography and fisheries. There’s still a lot to learn, particularly about how iconic fisheries like sea scallops and lobster respond to ocean acidification. But it’s clear that there is a lot to be worried about in New England. Seawater acidity is greater in these waters today than it was 35 years ago.
Scarier than any movie shark that can smell a drop of blood miles away (they can’t, by the way) is this week’s news about sharks’ sense of smell. A team of Australian and American scientists has just shown that smooth dogfishes (also called dusky smooth-hound sharks) can’t smell food as well after living in ocean acidification conditions expected for the year 2100. These “future” sharks could correctly track food smells only 15% of the time, compared to a 60% accuracy rate for unexposed sharks. In fact, the acidification-exposed sharks even avoided food smells!
This post is a collaboration between Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. (Ocean Conservancy) and Meredith White, Ph.D. (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences).
As we dig deeper into how ocean acidification will affect our oceans, many scientists are also starting to talk about how it affects our coasts. This is a new focus for scientists and one ripe for new learning. In this post, we will give you a window into the coastal factors that are driving acidification and the solutions at hand.
The total risk of Alaska’s boroughs and census areas from ocean acidification. Red areas are at highest risk, while blue areas are at lowest risk. Population size (circles), commercial harvest value (dollar sign size), and subsistence fishing significance (fish icon size) contribute to the total risk. Reprinted from Progress in Oceanography.
We know that some people will be more at risk than others as a result of ocean acidification. We have seen this with oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest. Scientists are now trying to determine what puts certain regions at greater risk than others from ocean acidification. Before I came to Ocean Conservancy, I helped lead a study on this question for Alaska, and it’s just been published in Progress in Oceanography this week.
My coauthors and I found that many of southwest and southeast Alaska’s boroughs and census areas (similar to counties or parishes in other states) face social and economic risk from ocean acidification – namely, many of the foods they eat and sell for income, all coming from the sea, are threatened by changes in the ocean’s chemistry.