News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Sarah Cooley
Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. is the Director of the Ocean Acidification Program at Ocean Conservancy. She is particularly interested in how global ocean changes like ocean acidification affect human communities, and she works to bring cutting-edge science into policy making.
San Franciso Bay Area Dungeness crabber Captain John Mellor
“We’re like the Giants. We’re your hometown team,” said Captain John Mellor last week as he described the San Francisco Bay Dungeness crab fishing fleet. Capt. Mellor’s pride in his work as a crabber is paired with a love for what he does. But, his feelings are mixed with fear for the future. A West-Coast wide toxic algae bloom shut down the fishery last year, leaving him out of work for five months. Fishermen and researchers are also worried that ocean acidification could represent a looming threat to the fishery that could cause future fishing disruptions.
2016 hasn’t been a good year for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery. The fishing season that typically spans the winter months – worth $212 million in 2014 – got significantly delayed this year when Dungeness crabs tested high for domoic acid, which sickens humans, and managers shut down the fishery. The crabs had fed heartily on a giant toxic bloom of Pseudonitschia algae, which produce domoic acid, and which were thriving in an unusually warm body of water stalled offshore, affectionately called “the blob.” The bloom also shut down other West Coast shellfish fisheries, too. The lost harvests equal lost income for West Coast communities. San Francisco Bay Area crabber John Mellor says, “If crabs were to disappear from the picture, I think it would be the end of my fishing career at this point.”
Ten years ago, I was finishing graduate school. I was becoming an expert on how carbon dioxide is stored in the world’s oceans, but – and this seems weird to me now – I hadn’t heard about ocean acidification. Hardly anyone had. Only a handful of scientists had started to realize that as the ocean sops up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean chemistry changes in ways that can hurt fish, shellfish, and corals.
Just five years later, concern about ocean acidification had grown dramatically, and thousands of people were involved. West Coast shellfish growers were trying to save their hatcheries from the effects of ocean acidification, while scientists were scrambling to offer information and solutions. Ocean Conservancy began working on this issue in 2012, helping bring affected business people, policy makers, and scientists together during the initial search for solutions in Washington State, whose shellfish hatcheries experienced dramatic die-offs of their oyster larvae.
Around here, we’re always thinking about the ocean. But sometimes the ocean isn’t always top-of-mind for world leaders, who must balance many pressing concerns. Nevertheless, dozens of world political, scientific, and environmental leaders made time to attend the second “Our Ocean” conference in Valparaiso, Chile last week.
Continuing the momentum developed at the first “Our Ocean” meeting in June 2014, speakers reviewed the critical importance of caring for the ocean that sustains human life. Ocean acidification was one of the main conference topics, and speakers underscored our best option for curbing it: cutting atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution.
In the past, we’ve shared good news with you about ocean acidification research funds allocated by the Federal government. Ever wonder what sorts of research projects NOAA supports with this money? A few days ago, NOAA announced three new awards to universities totaling $1.3 million to study how ocean acidification is changing the coastal ocean. We already know that nearshore waters are becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. These three universities will be looking at the root causes, and trying to understand what that means for marine plants and animals, and the people that rely on them.
What’s new and particularly ambitious about these projects is that they will study ocean acidification in coastal environments, which are incredibly complex. Not only do coastal waters take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they also receive fertilizer, sewage, and toxic chemical pollution from coastal development, host vibrant ecosystems, and receive pulses of freshwater runoff after storms. The net effect is that coastal water chemistry is the product of these layered processes. None of the processes happens at the same time or in the same place, making it difficult to understand which processes drive which effects.
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.