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.
Florida is famous for its beaches—it has more coastline than any other state in the Lower 48. And beyond all that sand lies an ocean wonderland of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and thriving fisheries. The state’s offshore attractions are nearly as iconic as its sunny weather, and that is why Florida leaders from a variety of sectors are working together to prepare for a changing ocean.
Last week, Ocean Conservancy and Mote Marine Laboratory teamed up to host a roundtable on ocean acidification (OA) in Florida. The goal of the day was to bring OA out of research circles and into the public space, by convening scientists, elected officials, journalists, industry and environmental organization representatives, and local resource managers to discuss knowns and unknowns. It’s part of a groundswell of attention to OA happening now in Florida.
This post is a collaboration between Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. (Ocean Conservancy), Ryan Kelly, Ph.D., J.D. (U. Washington) and C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D. (NOAA)
Readers of this blog know that ocean acidification is here, today. They also know that states on both coastsand the federal government are working to halt its progress and manage its impacts. But the ocean is heedless of borders. A healthy ocean future will require global action. That is why we have our eyes on December’s Paris climate conference (COP21). Decisions made there will determine whether our children will inherit a changed-but-recognizable ocean that still provides humanity with goods and services, or a damaged ocean lacking many resources we want. There is still time for us to reduce emissions and slow the warming and acidification of our ocean, but we have to act now. That is one of the conclusions we reach in a paper out today in Science.
Let’s take a moment on Mother’s Day to remember the ocean. Like mothers everywhere, the ocean looks out for us in the most basic ways. It’s easy to take those things for granted. Thanks, Mother Ocean, because you:
Gave us life. Earth scientists believe that the first life on Earth arose in the ocean, which brought together chemicals in a rich “soup” that gave rise to primitive cells. These early life forms evolved and diversified into the myriad organisms that exist today.
Keep us warm. The ocean stores a tremendous amount of heat that regulates the planet’s overall temperature. Ocean currents redistribute heat around the Earth to keep temperatures relatively stable. Not too hot and not too cold, the Earth’s small overall temperature range is critical for our survival.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, flippy whale, sai kung
How do you like to make big, complicated decisions? I like to write lists of pros and cons associated with the choice I’m leaning towards. That’s served me well for changing jobs, selling houses and more.
But for complex systems, like fisheries, simply comparing pros and cons of one choice isn’t enough. There are many moving parts in a fishery, and they are interconnected. For example, when fishermen harvest sea scallops, they reduce the overall number of scallops in an area, and change the age and size distribution of individual scallops. At the same time, factors like rising water temperature, availability of food, or quality of habitat can also affect scallop populations, and external factors like the price of scallops or gasoline can influence the intensity of fishing effort. So, changes in a fishery often lead to outcomes that don’t necessarily generate neat bullets you can compare on a balance sheet.
It’s especially challenging to plan for both short and long term changes in a fishery. Most fisheries are managed to accommodate short-term changes that last a few years, like natural fluctuations in population size. But fisheries management today generally doesn’t also consider long-term changes spanning many decades, like warming and ocean acidification, even though we know those changes are gradually tilting the playing field for many marine species.
When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.
In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.
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.