The Blog Aquatic » climate change News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ocean Acidification on the International Stage Fri, 04 Apr 2014 14:22:18 +0000 Sarah Cooley The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major report this week, addressing ocean acidification head on for the first time.  Ocean acidification is just as big a problem as severe storms, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, crop failures, disease and ocean circulation changes that are driven by global temperature rise. Just as with these other threats, the need for solutions is urgent. The good news is that there are already solutions at hand – all that’s needed is leaders willing to push for them.

Ten years ago, scientists first reported  that sea snails’ shells became weak and vulnerable in acidified seawater. Since then, our knowledge has grown enough and the implications are serious enough to elevate ocean acidification to the international level.

It’s wonderful to see how quickly the science community has been able to gather hard evidence proving that ocean acidification is happening, and that it is a real danger for marine ecosystems. Thanks to the pioneering work of climate change researchers, oceanographers knew where and how to look in the ocean for carbon pollution, and we had reams of historical data that helped us figure out what kinds of new experiments and equipment are needed to study ocean acidification.

Yet it’s clear that the work is not done.

The IPCC’s report also considers which human communities are most vulnerable, and how people can adapt to the changes. So far there are only a few scientifically studied instances where human communities have been harmed by ocean acidification: shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest, and impacts on fishermen in New England. Yet we know anecdotally acidification affects a huge number of people and seafood businesses around the world.

Scientists are using theory and models to identify who else could be vulnerable and what changes they can make now, knowing that ocean acidification will continue until we address and reduce carbon pollution. States like Washington and Maine are responding in the meantime, putting in place measures that enable coastal businesses to thrive by tackling local pollution that makes acidification worse.

I am optimistic that science and smart policies will help us win this race and avoid problems from ocean acidification before they become more widespread. Even though what we know about how species and communities will respond to ocean acidification is just a proverbial drop in the bucket, our understanding is growing every day. Future IPCC reports will surely have more to say on ocean acidification, as well as the array of actions  available to us. IN the meantime, we have a lot of work to do.

View Ocean Conservancy’s slideshow: Changing chemistry: The people impacted by ocean acidification.

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Collaborations Put California on the Path to Combat Ocean Acidification Wed, 27 Nov 2013 19:00:02 +0000 Julia Roberson

Hog Island Oyster Company has been in business for more than 30 years. Run by John Finger and Terry Sawyer, it is a family-owned business in Tomales Bay, Calif., that produces more than 3 million oysters annually, along with manila clams and mussels. John and Terry have the standard stresses and worries that come with operating a business, but when they talk about ocean acidification, you can tell their concern goes beyond the usual. Ocean acidification happens when carbon pollution from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, turning the water more acidic. Animals like oysters, clams and mussels have trouble building their shells in increasingly acidic water, and this spells trouble for California oyster growers like John and Terry. Luckily, just down the road from Hog Island is Bodega Bay Marine Lab. John and Terry have partnered with ocean acidification scientists like Dr. Tessa Hill to help them monitor the coastal water where they grow their oysters. This allows Hog Island to respond to changing ocean chemistry in a way that doesn’t hurt their business.

Now, in partnership with Washington and Oregon, California is convening a top-notch group of scientists to better understand ocean acidification along the West Coast. They just held their first meeting earlier this week. California’s shellfish industry is valued at $26 million, and the entire seafood industry in the state accounts for more than 13,000 jobs. The panel, called the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Panel (say that five times fast), will be looking at what science is needed to help managers and businesses like Hog Island, and many others, tackle ocean acidification.

To learn more about this story, check out the video above.

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Beyond the Scary Statistic: Real People and Places Impacted by Ocean Acidification Mon, 18 Nov 2013 20:32:12 +0000 Julia Roberson fisherman holding Alaska king crab

Photo: Boris Kasimov via Flickr

There’s another big story out today about ocean acidification. Scientists are saying acidification could increase by 170 percent by 2100; another headline reads “ocean acidification set to spiral out of control.” These stories are from a new report released today at the climate talks happening this week in Warsaw, Poland. Big numbers, big meetings. But are there stories behind these scary headlines?

Let’s break it down:

  • The report says that the ocean is already 26 percent more acidic than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. So what? Well, this increase in acidity has resulted in major losses at oyster farms, particularly in the Northwest. Taylor Shellfish and Whiskey Creek Hatchery had losses of up to 80 percent at their operations, before scientists figured out it was ocean acidification that made baby oysters (scientists would correct me and call it larvae) unable to grow their shells.
  • The report also says that the ocean will likely be 170 percent more acidic by 2100. That’s a big number. In people terms, that could spell big trouble for Alaskan king crab fishermen. Dr. Chris Long at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied juvenile king crabs in acidity levels that correspond to what is predicted for 2100. After three months, there was 100 percent mortality. This explains why crab fishermen are “scared to death,” as featured in The Seattle Times’ excellent series on acidification. King crab is worth millions of dollars every year—and that’s just the fishery.
  • The ocean is acidifying at a rate faster than any time in the last 55 million to 300 million years. What does that mean? Well, we know the ocean has been more acidic in the past (like during the Cretaceous Period) and that some marine animals thrived during that time. But what is so concerning to scientists is that acidification today is happening so quickly that many animals may be unable to evolve or adapt quickly enough. Research has shown that in increasingly acidified water, clownfish (yes, Nemo) are unable to discriminate between friend and foe—in other words, they may swim toward predators instead of dashing back to hide in an anemone when danger lurks. Nemo is not going to be able to evolve overnight, and neither will many other creatures that will be impacted by this chemistry experiment happening in the ocean.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s webpage hosting the report says that “reducing carbon dioxide is the only way to minimize the risks [of acidification].” While this is true—we need to reduce carbon pollution going into the atmosphere (and in turn, the ocean) to truly tackle acidification—it’s only part of the story. States are doing what they can, right now, to address this problem that threatens jobs and livelihoods of people that depend on a healthy ocean.

  • This month, California, Oregon and Washington will convene a crackerjack group of scientists to figure out what information the West Coast needs to continue its efforts to address ocean acidification. They are leading the way on state approaches to tackling a big, thorny problem and can serve as a model for other states ready to do the same.
  • Maine is considering establishing a panel (similar to what Washington state convened last year) to address ocean acidification. In June, the state passed a resolution identifying acidification as a major threat to its coastal economy, communities and way of life.
  • It’s not a state initiative and it was announced in September, but it bears repeating—the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Prize is a $2 million competition to develop breakthrough sensors that improve our understanding of, and responses to, ocean acidification. And today, Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) are holding a House briefing on the role technology can play in addressing acidification.

Are any of these efforts going to solve ocean acidification in one fell swoop? No. But they will make a difference in the places where acidification is impacting people’s businesses and livelihoods. Sometimes, that’s not as exciting as a big, scary headline. But it’s worth reporting, and remembering, that behind every big global statistic, there are real people and real places being impacted—and that we all have a role to play in solving these problems.

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“Pacific Rim” Is Science Fiction Married With Marine Science Thu, 15 Aug 2013 21:20:59 +0000 Guest Blogger

This post was written by Ocean Conservancy intern Sage Melcer.

Need an excuse to beat the summer heat at the movies this month? Check out sci-fi thriller “Pacific Rim.” The summer blockbuster, directed by Guillermo Del Toro (director of “Pan’s Labyrinth”), marries science fiction with marine science for cinematic gold.

“Pacific Rim” takes place in 2020 when alien-like monsters, called the Kaiju, start emerging from an undersea volcano, destroying countless cities and millions of people. In order to defeat the Kaiju, global forces come together to create Jaegers, giant robots that are controlled by two neurologically synced pilots who take part in mind-blowing hand-to-hand combat with the invaders.

Seasoned pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is pulled back into the Jaeger program years after the loss of his co-pilot and brother during a Kaiju battle. He teams up with rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to command the Jaeger Gypsy Danger, a nuclear-powered fighting legend. However Kaiju are becoming larger, stronger and smarter, and their occurrences are more frequent.

A scientist studying the Kaiju, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), discovers a way to connect with a Kaiju brain, stumbling upon a plan of attack that is more horrible than the human race could have possibly imagined.

At face-value, “Pacific Rim” brings you everything you could expect from a summer blockbuster:

  • Alien invasion: check
  • Cheesy one-liners: check
  • Mexican wrestling-inspired fight scenes: definitely check
  • Mind boggling special effects: of course, check
  • Killer soundtrack: absolutely, check

Yet what I find most impressive about the film is that when you dig a little deeper, you find messages that carry a heavy moral value to the issues of our world today.

When Dr. Newton Geiszler finally connects with a Kaiju brain, he discovers the sobering fact that we’ve brought this destruction upon ourselves. As humans continue to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a large amount of this greenhouse gas dissolves into our ocean. In a process called ocean acidification, dissolved carbon dioxide reacts with water molecules to create carbonic acid, a perfectly stable concoction to create a portal between the alien Kaiju world and ours.

Even though we might not be seeing aliens crawling out of the Pacific Ocean anytime soon, ocean acidification is a very real and serious issue—oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest have already suffered devastating losses to their businesses because of increasingly acidic water.

From a humanitarian perspective, Del Toro shows how what happens in the ocean affects all of us. One of the most compelling pieces of the storyline was the need for all nations to put aside their political, cultural and economic differences to create a global force to combat a threat that is too great for one nation alone.

We are at a crucial tipping point for how humanity will fare in light of the many challenges facing us. In many cases, we may not be able to give a roundhouse kick to the face to with a giant robot to solve pollution, climate change or biodiversity loss, but it is a fight people all over the world must rally behind in order to ensure a future for our species. You may not see the ocean every day, but it is still essential to our quality of life.

Whether you’re looking for philosophical greater meaning out of Hollywood or just like the idea of seeing giant alien monsters fight giant robots to the death, Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” will not disappoint. And, hopefully, it will help you start a deeper conversation at the dinner table about what our actions mean for the planet.

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“Shifts Happen”: Maine’s Fishing Communities Talk Climate Change Mon, 12 Aug 2013 21:00:14 +0000 Corey Ridings Lobster boats in Maine

Photo: rkleine via Flickr

On a recent day that would otherwise have been perfect for fishing, a group of Maine fishermen and lobstermen opted to remain indoors. They gathered to discuss an issue serious enough to tie up the boats: the future of fishing in the face of climate change.

Increasing carbon pollution and its impacts on the ocean is something that may seem distant and far away for many. But fishermen are seeing changes now and living new realities today. Members of Maine’s fishing communities met recently to discuss these changes during a workshop hosted by the Island Institute, a Maine group dedicated to sustaining local coastal communities.

Shifting fish populations due to warming waters are bringing new species to Maine and pushing others out. Lobsters are more plentiful than ever, a would-be boon except for an excess of “shedders” (also thought to be because of a warming ocean) that sell for a much lower rate than the usual hard-shelled individuals.

Green crabs, an invasive species, have moved north as waters have warmed, and are eating their way through the local shoreline, leading local clammer Walt Coffin to conclude, “We’ll be out of business in two years.”

Ocean acidification is another issue fishermen are contending with today. This process is occurring because of excess carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean, resulting in an increase in the ocean’s acidity, which spells trouble for shell-building animals. While not as immediate or visible as a swarm of invasive crabs, it also has the potential to seriously damage local industries and cripple economically important fish stocks.

We already know that ocean acidification has caused alarming losses in the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry, and the East Coast is becoming equally concerned about how acidification will impact commercially important fish species.

There is no easy answer, but there is agreement from industry, scientists and conservationists alike—we can and must do something to ensure a future for our iconic fishing and shellfish industries in the face of these threats.

Change can’t come from the waterfront alone though. Local, state and federal leadership is needed to tackle a problem of this proportion. The Maine legislature illustrated this in June, when it passed a resolution recognizing ocean acidification as “a threat to Maine’s coastal economy, communities and way of life.” The resolution cites reasons for action including the high susceptibility of the Gulf of Maine to ocean acidification and the value of fisheries to Maine’s economy (over $600 million in 2012 for those who are counting).

In light of all the challenges the New England fisheries are facing, it’s hard to even think about a future threat so dark and seemingly hard to address as climate change and ocean acidification. But the workshop was inspiring despite the dire predictions. It is clear that solutions are out there, members of the fishing community want to take action and management can respond.

In summing up the meeting that day, speaker Mike Fogarty said, “shifts happen.” The real question is how we respond to them.

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How Rhode Island Wind Can Help Take Us Far, Quickly Thu, 13 Jun 2013 15:04:37 +0000 Sandra Whitehouse

I had the opportunity to meet with former Vice President Al Gore to discuss the impacts of climate change on Rhode Island. This included the marine impacts, such as warming bay waters, and increased intensity of storms.

The winds on Rhode Island’s waters made them the location of choice for the America’s Cup sailing races for over a century. While harnessing that wind for energy may be only a small piece of the global picture, it can contribute to broader efforts to mitigate climate change.

We discussed the proactive planning process that Rhode Island completed in 2010, which resulted in the designation of a renewable energy area in state waters. Deepwater Wind has already applied to build a 30 megawatt demonstration-scale offshore wind farm in this area, which might become the first offshore wind to be harnessed in the US.

As the keynote speaker for Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day, Gore commended Rhode Island’s smart ocean planning and its robust engagement of stakeholders.

“Congratulations to Rhode Island; one of the things this little engine that can has done is to bring all the stakeholders together in a very intelligent way, and move quickly,” he said. “You know, there’s an old Native American saying: If you want to go quickly, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. We have to go far, quickly. And that’s what you’re doing by getting your act together and figuring out the problems and the points of opposition in advance, and getting people to work together.”

Many of the people in the audience came away feeling inspired that maybe we can address climate change before it’s too late. I know I did.

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New Report: The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries Mon, 06 May 2013 18:24:49 +0000 Guest Blogger

A fisherman adds a red snapper to the pile on a dock in Destin, Florida. – Photo: Tom McCann

As fishermen, scientists, policymakers, and other ocean experts from around the country gather in Washington this week to discuss the future of fisheries in America, Ocean Conservancy and The Pew Charitable Trusts are releasing a joint report highlighting many of the stories that show how fisheries management is succeeding.

The Washington Post covered the report over the weekend, focusing on our belief that while fisheries management is working, we must also let it keep on working if we’re going to face global challenges like ocean acidification and climate change:

More complex problems loom, ones that cannot be solved area by area, experts say. “What we need to pay greater attention to is a changing world and a changing climate and what repercussions that will have,” Chris Dorsett, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s fish conservation and gulf restoration program, said in an interview.

The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act” is a primer and collection of stories that highlight pioneers of American fishery management as well as innovators who are opening fishing frontiers, revealing:

  • How a salmon fishing pioneer’s courage in making sacrifices for long-term sustainability set the stage for Alaska’s success.
  • How successful fishermen from Alaska to Florida used discipline to turn around two decades of overfishing.
  • How West Coast fishermen found the flexibility to make a living within rebuilding programs.
  • How fishing entrepreneurs in Port Clyde, ME, turned leadership into opportunity.
  • Why rebuilding important recreational species such as summer flounder, bluefish, and lingcod provides economic as well as enjoyment payoffs.
  • What commercial and recreational fishermen believe we get from good stewardship.

Fishing is an important American industry and pastime. According to NOAA’s latest economic report: U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales and supported 1.7 million jobs in the nation’s economy in 2011.

In addition to driving many coastal economies, the stories in this report feature some of the most popular fish to end up on our plates, like salmon, red snapper, and scallops.

Thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our nation now benefits from dozens of rebuilt fish populations, but even as we have seen remarkable progress made, we have also seen an increase in challenges to this law, in the form of partisan politics and disasters—both natural and man-made.

At the end of last week, NOAA Fisheries released an update on the status of U.S. fisheries showing the continued rebuilding of our nation’s fisheries and a record low number of fish populations subject to unsustainable fishing rates.  Along with being great news and it was further proof  that the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act  is workingto restore our fisheries. This record progress is a win for fish and fishermen. It means a healthier ocean, more fresh and local seafood, greater recreational opportunities, and a bright and prosperous future for our nations coastal communities.

Read the full report here:

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