The Blog Aquatic » acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 18 Sep 2014 15:33:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Video: Ocean Acidification – A Threat to Economies and Cultures Around the World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/21/video-ocean-acidification-a-threat-to-economies-and-cultures-around-the-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/21/video-ocean-acidification-a-threat-to-economies-and-cultures-around-the-world/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:37:16 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9059 Continue reading ]]>

Over these past three months, my blog series has taken you around the world and into the lives of marine dependent communities at risk from ocean acidification.  Hopefully this journey did for you what it did for me: showed how ocean acidification has the power to alter whole communities, and how these communities are in dire need of research, guidance and infrastructure to prepare for the challenges ahead.

Before I leave Ocean Conservancy, I want to share one more thing.  I have prepared this video to help make the stories I’ve shared in my blog come alive.  Listen to Waiaria talk about the value of shellfish to the identity of people in New Zealand.  Watch fishermen in Peru celebrate El Dia de Pescadores. Tag along as a shellfish farmer in Thailand hand dredges the bay in the middle of the night.  See the faces and the places that continue to drive my conviction that we have more work to do.  And share them with your friends, so we can do good on what Peter, a cod-fisherman in Norway who can trace fishing back 1,000 years in his family, said to me:

“The whole world has to know. Not only in this small place, but the whole world has to know what is happening.”

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Ocean Acidification Wrecks Sharks’ Smellovision http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:06:23 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9054 Continue reading ]]>

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 surprising result is also pretty sobering, when you consider how important sharks’ sense of smell is to nearly everything they do. Sharks have especially large, complex “nose” organs, which help them find food, mates, and predators, as well as find their way around the oceans. Many sharks, including the smooth dogfish, are very active at night and in the deep, dark ocean, so their sense of smell provides critical information about their surroundings. The researchers note that the sharks’ damaged sense of smell is probably due to the same changes in neurotransmitters reported in coral reef clownfish (yes, Nemo) that love the smell of predators in an acidifying ocean.

Despite their mighty reputation, sharks are under threat from overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss. Sharks that also can’t find food or avoid predators will probably not survive long, causing even more trouble for shark populations. They grow and reproduce slowly, too, meaning that sharks that die young aren’t replaced quickly. Scientists still don’t know yet if the smooth dogfish can adapt over several generations to improve their odds against the ocean acidification we will see over the coming decades, but it doesn’t look good.

Smooth dogfishes live along coasts from Maine to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and along the southeastern coast of South America. They might benefit somewhat from the actions that East Coast states like Maine and Maryland are taking against ocean acidification, but as species that migrate long distances, our best bet is to cut carbon dioxide emissions globally.

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What Does Ocean Acidification Mean for our Coasts? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/07/what-does-ocean-acidification-mean-for-our-coasts/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/07/what-does-ocean-acidification-mean-for-our-coasts/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 12:30:35 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8938 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Here’s how it breaks down. When people refer to ‘ocean acidification,’ they are usually talking about changes in water chemistry that happen when the ocean takes up carbon pollution from fossil fuels.  Scientists can see this very clearly at study sites in the middle of the ocean, far away from land. But, ocean acidification is having an impact closer to shore as well. The impacts from acidification to West Coast oyster growers and the losses they suffered are well-known. It’s one of the reasons East Coast states are deciding to act. Just last week, a Maine commission held its first meeting to figure out what the state can do about acidification. Maryland’s task force meets this week. Much of their focus will be on the near-shore drivers of acidification.

Absorption of carbon pollution from the atmosphere isn’t the only thing that affects seawater acidity.  In coastal areas, differences in the makeup or amount of river discharge and heavy pollution from land (e.g., stormwater and agricultural run-off) also change water acidity. Most rivers naturally increase seawater acidity and worsen ocean acidification. Other activities can make things worse by increasing runoff (e.g., from a large parking lot or by melting glaciers) or by changing the natural balance of rock particles carried in the river (e.g. erosion from development projects). These rivers then acidify the coastal ocean at higher rates than before. In addition, fertilizer pollution or sewage runoff can cause huge algae blooms. In the worst case, some of the blooms could be toxic, similar to what has impacted Toledo, Ohio’s water supply over the last four days. When the algae die, they release huge amounts of extra carbon dioxide that also acidify the water. Recent research shows that this makes the water even less able to naturally balance out these disruptions.

In the past few years scientists have started to focus on coastal factors that worsen acidification, as our ability to measure these changes near the shore has grown.  When we started working on ocean acidification about eight years ago, coastal issues weren’t really a focus for the ocean acidification community. But now, addressing these coastal factors is a key part of dealing with ocean acidification. Communities have a lot of options available to them, starting with local actions like reducing coastal pollution and wisely managing polluted runoff. While these coastal factors are critical, they are just a first step. To fully address ocean acidification, we will also need to reduce the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere. By taking care of our coasts and keeping the big picture of reducing carbon in mind, we can ensure that our oceans are healthy and productive.

Meredith White, Ph.D. has been a postdoctoral researcher at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences since March 2013. Her research focuses on biological impacts of ocean acidification, and she is serving as a member of Maine’s Commission on acidification. She is particularly fond of marine invertebrates, and she has a knack for spotting lobster art with the wrong number of legs. Follow her at @CoastalMer and lobstersaredecapods.tumblr.com). 

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Sight and Smell: How Traditional Methods Won’t Hold up Against Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/sight-and-smell-how-traditional-methods-wont-hold-up-against-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/sight-and-smell-how-traditional-methods-wont-hold-up-against-ocean-acidification/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:13:06 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8819 Continue reading ]]>

Ocean acidification is invisible to the naked eye.  It’s not something we can smell, not something we can feel with our fingers.  But in many parts of the world, that’s just how fishermen and shellfish farmers assess the water they work in.

Right now, the methods we have to understand and respond to ocean acidification are expensive, requiring a lot of equipment.  For example, oyster farmers in the Pacific Northwest rely on ocean monitoring systems that tell them the condition of the water, high-tech hatcheries that give them a controlled environment in which to rear their oysters, and buffering systems that allow them to neutralize the water coming in and make it suitable for oyster growth.

For shellfish farmers who are worried about making a profit at the end of the day, it can be impossible to foot the bill for expensive technologies like these.  That’s where government support comes in. The oyster farmers of Oregon and Washington State were able to build their defenses against ocean acidification with help from the federal government, which directed half a million dollars to the development of these monitoring and adaptation systems.

In many places I visited, however, government support was limited and these important technologies were nowhere to be found.

In Ban Don Bay, the hub of shellfish farming in Thailand, I sat on a wooden long-tail boat at peak clam harvesting hours: 1 – 4 am.  Why the middle of the night?  Because that’s when the tide is low enough to dredge the mud flats by hand.  A young man single-handedly hauled a steel cage up onto the boat, dumping out the clams that had been dredged from the farmed-flats below.  He threw the empty cage overboard, while an older man steered the boat ahead.  The cage dragged along the bottom for a few minutes until the young man tugged on the rope again to haul the harvests on board.

Thousands of shellfish farmers work the mudflats of Ban Don Bay.  But they rely entirely on natural seed, having no hatchery to supply them.  Many farmers told me of how they had observed changes in the water—an increase in algal blooms, changes in the smell and color of the water—but they didn’t understand these changes, and had no way of knowing what caused them. Jintana Nugranad, a Senior Fisheries Biologist working within the Thai Government, told me of how she had fought to maintain a shellfish hatchery and expand monitoring efforts to support the industry in Thailand through scientific research on shellfish and seed production, but received no support in her efforts.

This was the case for much of the scallop industry in Peru as well.  Farmers collect natural seed from an island near Sechura Bay.  There are a few privately-operated hatcheries in the bay, but so far none of them have equipment to monitor the chemistry of their intake water, or to modify the chemistry of that water if it proves too acidic for their scallops to grow.  Scallop farmers were hopeful, however, that the government and private sector would support the development of hatcheries throughout the country.

In Hong Kong, oyster farmers told me how they hope for similar support from their government.  They work in Lau Fau Shan, in the Northwest corner of Hong Kong’s New Territories.  The region is famous for its oysters, and the only place in Hong Kong where oysters are still grown.  One of the farmers, Mr. Chan, explained to me that the hyper-capitalist structure of Hong Kong means there is little support or services provided for primary industries like his.  He pointed to China, just across the bay, and told me of how shellfish farmers there receive government support to invest in advanced technology.  But in Hong Kong, he told me, “e He pointed  The way we farm oysters is very backwards. We rely on traditional knowledge that has been handed down for maybe 2,000 years.  It is not scientifically advanced.”  He told me of how they use the moon to time their farming activities and smell the water to determine its quality.

Time and again, Mr. Chan told me of how he wished to have access to more advanced technologies.  “Can you help me?” he asked.  “Can you teach us what they do in America?”

Given how many environmental pressures these shellfish farmers face, ranging from industrial and agricultural runoff to changes in temperature and frequency of algal blooms, it’s remarkable that they have been able to survive in the industry.  But ocean acidification is a powerful and complex threat.  It cannot be seen without the help of technology, and it affects every drop of water surrounding these shellfish.  Without access to monitoring equipment to determine what is happening and where, and with limited resources and access to technology that may allow for adaptation, it will be very difficult for these shellfish industries to survive.

It is therefore critical that we expand research efforts to improve our understanding of ocean acidification as well as our methods for addressing it.  This is exactly what NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program is doing, but the program needs more funding to accomplish its goals.  Support our petition to increase funding for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program.

A man dumps a bucket of water over clams he has just dredged from the bottom of Ban Don Bay, in Thailand.  He harvests when the tide is lowest—in this case, in the middle of the night. Bamboo stakes mark the edge of shellfish farming beds in Ban Don Bay.  Some farmers sleep in wooden stilt houses at night. An oyster farmer from Surat Thani, home of Ban Don Bay, shows off his prize for having the highest quality of oysters in the region. A man and his wife smile as they sell their oysters at the local market near Ban Don Bay Juan is the manager of one of Peru’s only scallop hatcheries.  He doesn’t have the equipment to take high quality pH measurements in his hatchery. Mr. Chan pulls a string of oysters up from his bamboo rafts in Deep Bay, between Hong Kong and China. A man returns from harvesting oysters in Deep Bay. ]]>
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A Modest Pledge Makes a Big Difference for Ocean Acidification Research and Collaboration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/25/a-modest-pledge-makes-a-big-difference-for-ocean-acidification-research-and-collaboration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/25/a-modest-pledge-makes-a-big-difference-for-ocean-acidification-research-and-collaboration/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:30:16 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8626 Continue reading ]]>  

The right-hand end of the long, low pinkish building across the harbor houses the International Atomic Energy Agency Laboratory in La Condamine, Monaco, which hosts the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre.

Despite this week’s excited headlines about ocean research and conservation during Secretary Kerry’s “Our Oceans” conference, you still might have missed Prince Albert of Monaco’s Monday announcement that the U.S. State Department and Department of Energy have pledged a total of $640,000 to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC), based at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Monaco lab.

This is great news for ocean acidification research and decision-making around the world. The OA-ICC engages scientists in international collaborative research, education, and advice to policymakers. For example, the OA-ICC and its partners have put out several informational brochures for the public in many languages about ocean acidification, and OA-ICC-affiliated scientists have presented at high-level international events like this week’s “Our Oceans” conference and the past five sessions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties. But the OA-ICC’s best known activity among specialists is their news stream, which is a thoughtfully-curated daily feed (available by email, Twitter, or RSS) about ocean acidification news stories, research outcomes, opportunities, and educational materials. The OA-ICC gets a lot done for a small price tag.

The State Department’s support will allow researchers and policymakers to continue to study ocean acidification globally and find meaningful solutions for people and communities impacted. We thank Secretary Kerry, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Principality of Monaco for their continued support of ocean acidification research and collaboration at the international level.

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Connecting the Head and the Heart: Taking Action on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/01/connecting-the-head-and-the-heart-taking-action-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/01/connecting-the-head-and-the-heart-taking-action-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 11:45:25 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8157 Continue reading ]]> Even though ocean acidification is a pretty young issue, scientists and journalists already have developed two distinct storylines about it. Scientists start with the details and describe the impacts of ocean acidification last. Journalists put the impacts up front and fill in the details where they fit in. But to create long-lasting action around ocean acidification, we need to connect the two approaches in a new way. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re working on exactly that.

Scientists describe what studies came before, what questions remain, how they did their study, and then what they learned. Typical scientific explanations of ocean acidification start by describing how increased atmospheric carbon dioxide changes ocean chemistry in ways that slow the growth of marine creatures with hard shells and skeletons– from tiny sea snails to massive corals. After lots of detail, scientists point out that coastal communities could see decreased fisheries harvests, leading to hunger or economic losses, or loss of coral reef protection from storms. The big stories that matter to people, about hunger, economic losses, and storm flooding, get buried in the details.

Journalists, on the other hand, start with the hook. Media coverage of the Pacific Northwest oyster collapse often started by profiling shellfish growers who had suffered losses, then described the discovery of ocean acidification as the culprit. These stories often ended with hope, describing possible fixes growers were trying. Stories with heart, about people, helped drive action about ocean acidification in Washington State. Concerned citizens in Maine and Maryland have heard these stories, and are also taking action to understand the local impacts of ocean acidification. Similarly, recent coverage of the latest study showing how quickly sea snails, or pteropods, are being harmed by ocean acidification starts with the scientists’ astonishment at their own results, rather than strictly focusing on the details of the study.

The happy downside of the journalists’ approach is that we don’t have many sad stories about ocean acidification today—but every new day could bring them. The happy downside of the scientists’ approach is that from all of the technical details and reams of data we must sift through, we’ve got lots of evidence about what is likely to happen. The science says more sad stories are coming if we don’t act soon. Ocean acidification has never happened this fast, as far back as we can read Earth’s history. But ocean chemistry changes that developed over thousands of years caused mass extinctions in the past – what will this major change that’s developed over just two centuries do? From the Earth’s point of view, ocean acidification is happening in the blink of an eye, but it’s hard for humans to take action on changes happening over decades to centuries.

Action against global change in the climate and oceans needs more than a single news story or science lecture. We know we need to commit to cutting the carbon pollution we’re putting into the air and ocean. We also know that it’s hard to do this.  To help get us there, we need people speaking out about the waste we’re pumping into our environment and how it’s impacting them or their businesses.  Here at Ocean Conservancy, we are working with partners to highlight these stories, and bring them to the attention of decision makers. We are also distilling the science into nuggets that directly answer citizens’ and decision-makers’ questions. When it comes to communicating about big, global issues in a way that can lead to meaningful, lasting change, both the journalists’ and scientists’ approaches are needed.  Neither the heart nor the head can succeed alone, so we’re connecting the two in a fresh approach.

See more stories of people who will be impacted by ocean acidification. Learn more about ocean acidification. Join the conversation around #oceanacidification with me, @co2ley, on Twitter!

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