The Blog Aquatic » carbon News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Connecting the Head and the Heart: Taking Action on Ocean Acidification Thu, 01 May 2014 11:45:25 +0000 Sarah Cooley 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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Ocean Acidification: A Pain in the Arctic Fri, 17 May 2013 21:04:30 +0000 George Leonard

credit – Ocean Conservancy

No matter where you live, if you go outside and start walking north, at some point you’ll reach the Arctic Ocean. A vast expanse at the northern reaches of the planet, the Arctic Ocean supports a dizzying array of ocean wildldife, including the charismatic – and much threatened – polar bear. Most readers of The Blog Aquatic know that summer sea ice has been rapidly melting, caused by human-induced climate change from our ever rising global carbon emissions. Indeed, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere just broke a new record high.

But more poorly understood is that carbon dioxide is beginning to undermine the Arctic ocean itself through a process called ocean acidification. No less than 10 key scientific findings  can be found in a just-released assessment of ocean acidification undertaken by an international group of independent scientists.

Their assessment will be presented to the Arctic Council Ministers in Kiruna, Sweden this week. Called the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), the scientists spent the last three years detailing the effects of ocean acidification on the Arctic, and exploring the consequences for the four million people living there.

The assessment concludes that the Arctic is particularly sensitive to ocean acidification, in part because the especially cold Arctic water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warmer waters to the south. In addition, the region’s ocean food web is also unusually vulnerable because it consists of only a few keys species that are themselves vulnerable to changing ocean chemistry. Most troubling, ocean acidification poses real threats to local indigenous peoples who depend on Arctic resources for sustenance, for their livelihoods, and for their culture.

These new insights into ocean acidification in the Arctic foreshadow similar processes underway in waters south of the Arctic Ocean in the Bering Sea. In these sub-Arctic waters where future Filet-o-Fish sandwiches and California rolls prosper, ocean acidification also is a direct threat to Alaska’s fishing industry. Alaska’s signature catch of cod, salmon, and crab is enjoyed by seafood consumers across the U.S. and around the world. And with over $1.6 billion in revenue in 2010 – and 53,000 jobs at stake – Alaska is rightly worried about how acidification could impact their industry. A new study published by NOAA Fisheries scientist Dr. Chris Long has documented how more acidic waters decimate juvenile red king crabs and tanner crabs, an economically important fishery in Alaska. Along with the AMAP report, Dr. Long’s research is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how ocean acidification may disrupt northern marine food webs, including for economically important species and those of cultural significance.

All this paints a troubling picture of what may lie ahead for the world’s northern-most ocean. But it also underscores the vital role that scientific research and monitoring can play in helping anticipate what is to come, identifying ways to minimize impacts, and equipping seafood businesses and indigenous cultures with the tools to weather future changes. With the right data and information the United States, as a leader among Arctic nations, can help save the species and ecosystems upon which all peoples depend.

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Ocean Acidification is About What We Eat Thu, 02 May 2013 21:30:50 +0000 Corey Ridings

A Seattle Chef prepares crisp smelt while learning about the local impacts of ocean acidification – credit Zach Lyons

Earlier this April, Ocean Conservancy and the Seattle Chefs Collaborative co- hosted an event featuring what was probably the most delicious seafood in the world. The Seattle Chef’s Collaborative is a local chapter of a national organization that brings chefs together to meet, learn, and advocate. They are not a traditional conservation organization, but in this case were gathered to talk about little-known local species, a problem called ocean acidification, and to enjoy their colleagues’ creations featuring the very species discussed.

Ocean acidification, caused by rising CO₂ emissions being absorbed by the ocean can be a pretty daunting topic.  We are always asking ourselves, “how do we move this conversation from small groups of scientists and managers to the bus stops and dinner tables where most of us hang out”

Well, everyone has to eat, and for the most part, they enjoy doing so.

Some of our most favorite, most iconic species are oysters and shellfish.  So when you start to think that some of our activities on land might be jeopardizing those things in the ocean that we love, we get worried.   My colleague George Leonard spoke on a panel at the Edible Institute, a yearly gathering of leaders in the local food movement last month in Santa Barbara, and received a warm welcome connecting ocean acidification and the seafood on our plates:

“The audience wanted to know more, and was concerned that ocean acidification is not only affecting shellfish today but poses a serious threat to the broader ocean food web we all depend on.”

Local seafood — geoduck and herring, made for non-traditional but delicious sushi

My experience in Seattle was the same. Beyond getting to talk with interesting chefs and restaurateurs and enjoy amazing seafood and wine, it was most exciting to hear how interested and concerned they are about ocean acidification and its impacts on local food and businesses.  Right now oysters and oyster growers are living with the impacts of acidification – corrosive water nearly brought the Pacific Northwest industry to its knees.  Washington State is now the first state to tackle ocean acidification at a state level – Former governor Chris Gregoire convened an expert panel to address ocean acidification and provided $3.31 million for state efforts.   We recently made a video telling Washington’s story through the people most affected.

A growing body of science is telling a tale of changes in the ocean that could threaten  entire ecosystems from salmon to narwhales, and everyone who depends on them for livelihood, dinner, culture, or recreation. Chefs and other food-industry advocates are well-suited to talk about this subject and connect with others on it.  Not only do they depend on seafood for their art and livelihood, but they are natural story-tellers with an intuitive understanding of the connection between the natural world and our plates.

As we move forward facilitating discussion, educating on the threats, and promoting action to alleviate the ecologic and societal damages of ocean acidification and other ocean issues, it’s important that we remember why groups like chefs are so valuable and necessary to the tell the stories.  It’s the stories, the people, and the experiences that truly motivate and impassions not only the public and the policymakers, but ourselves as well.

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Ocean Acidification: How One Coastal State Starts to Tackle a Global Challenge Tue, 27 Nov 2012 20:19:08 +0000 Julia Roberson

Credit: swamibu flickr stream

Seattle–one of my favorite cities. I first came here in 2006 and fell in love with Puget Sound, the strong smell of coffee and the surprisingly steep downtown streets that make my morning runs more challenging than I’m used to, given the gentle slopes of DC.

Today I’ve just attended an event at the beautiful Seattle Aquarium to hear Washington Governor Christine Gregoire announce the first ever state response to ocean acidification — a little-known threat that hit the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry like an invisible ton of bricks back in 2007 and now has top billing in Washington and across the country today.

Ocean acidification is what happens when significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ocean.  A chemical reaction is occurring in our oceans right now as our carbon emissions increase.  Because of the amount of carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean, its pH is lowered, turning it more acidic. The ocean is 25% more acidic than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

I just spent Thanksgiving with some relatives in Virginia and their reaction when I told them about ocean acidification was, “that sounds really, really bad.” It is.  Changing the chemistry of the ocean because of our pollution means that shell-building animals have trouble building the shells necessary for their survival. This is already hurting business owners like Mark Weidgart of Whiskey Creek Hatchery in Oregon – his business provides oyster seed for shellfish growers up and down the west coast.  When seawater is more acidic, oysters have trouble building their shells.  It’s not just oysters. Scientists are seeing the impacts today on pteropods, tiny sea snails that are an important food source for juvenile salmon and other fish that we like to eat.

So if we’re talking about worldwide carbon emissions being the cause of ocean acidification, what can one state that is on the front lines of this problem, realistically do? Well plenty, judging by today’s announcement.  While our carbon emissions are the root cause, acidification is made worse by local land-based pollution.  Imagine a pie that represents the sources of pollution turning our ocean more acidic.  Roughly two-thirds of the pie is made up of our carbon emissions.   But one-third of that pie comes from land-based pollution like runoff, stormwater, agricultural waste.  We can and must tackle those local sources, right now – to protect our coastal communities and businesses.

Governor Gregoire has made a significant commitment in the form of an Executive Order and allocating funds to ocean acidification priorities.  And her panelists have detailed an action plan that allows for even more action to be taken today — action that can make a difference to businesses who earn a living from growing shellfish that we all enjoy.  One in six oysters consumed in the United States comes from Willapa Bay.  Now it’s up to other states like Oregon, California and Maine to follow Washington’s excellent model for action.

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How the ocean helps keep carbon out of the atmosphere Thu, 14 Jun 2012 18:23:06 +0000 Rachel Guillory

Credit: National Marine Sanctuaries

As George Leonard wrote recently, planning for a stormier, warmer ocean is a daunting but important task. That’s already a reality for those of us living on the Gulf Coast, where sea level rise (compounded by coastal erosion) can almost wash away an entire community.

With near-perfect timing, another new study has just revealed that sea grasses can trap 2 to 3 times more carbon than a typical forest. The ocean, not just forests, can play a larger role than scientists previously believed keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. A global team of scientists found that sea grasses can trap 183 million pounds of carbon per square kilometer. These grasses take up less than 0.2 percent of the world’s ocean but account for more than 10 percent of all the carbon absorbed by sea life.

Sea grasses can form vast underwater meadows when they are healthy and where the water is clear and clean enough for these flowering plants to grow from the sandy bottom. Here in the Gulf of Mexico, sea grass beds can be found along all 5 states but form the largest meadows  on the coasts of Texas and Florida, and they provide habitat to a number of important marine life, including dolphins, manatees, shrimp, sea turtles, and—my personal favorite—red drum.

Given the significant loss of this important habitat, including losses form the BP oil disaster, NOAA has identified sea grass beds as a priority for restoration in the Gulf. Ocean Conservancy fully supports sea grass restoration as a priority, given their role as nurseries and spawning grounds for marine life, including many of the fish we like to eat. We also depend on sea grass beds as a buffer against storm surge for our coastal communities, as well as to sustain our vibrant fishing communities.

Now we know that sea grasses can contribute to reducing the warming of the ocean. What other superpowers do you think the oceans are capable of?

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Your Ocean on Carbon: A Field Report Wed, 30 May 2012 16:03:16 +0000 George Leonard

Credit: James Maciariello

I have had three sobering yet empowering days in Boston at the first Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security hosted by UMass Boston. I joined colleagues from academia, government, the non-profit sector, private industry and even the military to explore human and national security implications of our changing climate and our changing oceans. While our elected officials in Washington DC continue to debate whether climate change is “real”, those on the front lines have moved beyond this debate to prepare for what is to come and indeed, what is already here.

Make no mistake about it. Our oceans are changing. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the nation’s top ocean official, itemized these changes; sea level is rising and the oceans are getting stormier, seawater is getting warmer and holds less oxygen. None of this is debatable. The data are clear and profound. And the pace of change is increasing. 

The consequences of a changing ocean extend well beyond the coast and should be of concern to all of us, whether coastal or inland residents.  The frequency and severity of catastrophic weather events are increasing. Over 200 of my fellow participants sat spellbound while Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, identified the top 12 potential $100 billion weather disasters in the next 30 years.  That’s billion with a b, not million.

You might guess that the sober reality of the science would sap the energy to act from all in the room. Quite the contrary. Many sectors are stepping up to confront a changing ocean head on. Dr. Luchenco’s agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is leading no fewer than 8 initiatives to measure and address ocean acidification and climate change.  The U.S. Navy is planning extensively for sea level rise and an ice free Arctic ocean.  The aquaculture industry is changing business practices to avoid increasingly acidic waters.  States like Massachusetts and Rhode Island are using smart planning to address how ocean uses are influenced by a changing ocean.  Much of this activity is happening at the local level, with an emphasis on local leadership, engagement and success.

There is no question that our future ocean will be dramatically different than it is today.  But with the energy and commitment evident at the UMass Boston conference, we can work together to proactively plan for that future.

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