Ocean Currents » climate change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 08 Feb 2016 14:43:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Protecting What We Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/04/protecting-what-we-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/04/protecting-what-we-love/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 22:20:46 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11424

Our coastal communities are rallying to protect our oysters and our ocean

It’s no secret: I love oysters.

(And so should you. They keep our ocean and waterways healthy. And taste spectacular too.)

But we haven’t always done right by my favorite shelled creatures. It’s a fact reinforced by a slew of recent reports—plastic trash in the ocean could be hurting baby oysters, said the Washington Post and a new University of Miami study that found that the Atlantic Ocean has absorbed 100 percent more man-made carbon pollution in the past 10 years as it did the previous decade, spelling trouble for marine life and coastal communities.

It made me doubly grateful for the large dose of optimism delivered at the Climate of Change event hosted by the Maine-based Island Institute last night. It was the Washington DC premier of four short films that shone a spotlight on the changes taking place in our ocean. More importantly, they all focused on solutions that support coastal communities across America.

“A Climate of Change: Collapse and Adaptation in the Apalachicola Oyster Fishery” was a stand-out for me.

And no, not just because of luscious close-ups of oysters.

For 10 minutes I was immersed in the story of a small Florida town where oystermen still harvest their catch by hand in one of our country’s last wild oyster fisheries. It’s a community that has been built on the half shell. Drought, freshwater shortages, and then the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010 have had a devastating impact. Where there once were 150 oyster processing houses, there are now only nine. But the community is rallying. Apalachicola received federal funding to reseed the bay. It is putting oystermen back to work and helping to ensure a viable oyster fishery in the future. There is clearly a long way to go for Apalachicola but things are on the upswing.  By sharing their story they are also inspiring other communities to take action.

Local action to tackle acidification

Ocean Conservancy is getting the word out to make sure people on both the East Coast and West Coast understand the changes taking place in our ocean. I’m particularly concerned about ocean acidification; it’s already impacted oyster growers on the West Coast, and could impact fishermen and shellfish growers on the East Coast as well. We need to reduce our carbon emissions to tackle ocean acidification at its root, but there are many things we can do locally, too.

We’re working with partners and people on the front lines to create support for local and regional actions to address acidification. I am proud to be part of the Ocean Conservancy team that prepared a toolkit that identifies actions that states and communities can take to tackle acidification, which was published just last week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. We hope it will be a useful part of a growing resource base for communities to adapt. It’s heartening that states like Maine, Washington and Oregon are already taking action.

So when the news stories get especially grim, I am grateful to be part of the solutions. And for glimpses from places like Apalachicola where smart, passionate people in our coastal communities are working hard to protect what we love.


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An Ocean of Support at the Paris Climate Negotiations http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/21/an-ocean-of-support-at-the-paris-climate-negotiations/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/21/an-ocean-of-support-at-the-paris-climate-negotiations/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 15:10:32 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11240

The recent, and much heralded, Paris climate negotiations have led to a new global climate agreement. This historic deal involves 195 nations working toward a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and restricting future global warming to an increase of “substantially less than 2 degrees Celsius”, a substantially new target that was just one of many new components of the landmark climate agreement. Ocean Conservancy sat down with longtime friend and colleague Jay Manning, a climate and ocean expert from Washington state, to get his inside report from Paris and COP21, and what it means for the health of the world’s ocean.

Jay, tell us why you went to Paris, and what message you wanted the climate treaty negotiators to hear.
I went to Paris in my professional capacity to support the Pacific Coast Collaborative, which consists of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. These jurisdictions have been working together for 8 years on climate, energy and ocean acidification. The agenda at Paris included a substantial focus on cities, states, and other jurisdictions below the national level where substantial progress on addressing climate change has been made. The message we sent was that carbon limits and economic success go together. Another important reason why I went to Paris was to advance the discussion on ocean acidification. I’ve worked on this issue with Ocean Conservancy and others for the last 4 years. I spoke out in support of an aggressive international agreement to limit carbon emissions, which is the root cause of ocean acidification, to protect shellfish farmers from my coastal state, for other coastal communities around the world and for ocean ecosystems.

What expectations did you have for how prominent the ocean would be in the discussions and how did it turn out?
From my vantage point, the health of our ocean was a prominent theme in the discussions. Ocean advocates from around the world gathered and told stories of ocean acidification and other changes caused by global warming impacting the Pacific Northwest and other hot spots around the world. My understanding is that this was quite different from previous meetings. To the disappointment of some, the agreement itself heavily focused on atmospheric carbon and limiting emissions with little explicit language on the ocean, but there was far more prominence given to the ocean than in previous negotiations.

Why is the ocean so much more prominent this year in the global discussions on climate change?
I think it’s because in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia the impacts of ocean acidification are beginning to be felt. It started with oyster growers, and the crash in oyster stocks in the Pacific Northwest, but now it’s happening on a much larger scale. Climate impacts across the board—from the ocean to the land—are showing up much earlier than expected. Ocean acidification is being felt across the world. But, it’s not just acidification. Warming ocean temperatures and lowering dissolved oxygen levels are combining with increased acidity to threaten whole ecosystems and coastal economies.

How will the results of this historic climate agreement remedy the growing threat of ocean acidification on coastal communities and fishing businesses around the world?
The root cause of ocean acidification is the increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2, of which 25-30% dissolves into the world’s ocean. As the atmospheric concentrations go up, it also goes up in the ocean. As the pH goes down, it creates real problems for shell-forming creatures like oysters. In some places, we are seeing pH levels at 7.5 or 7.6. At that level of acidity, it’s a lethal dose for oyster larvae. Now, we’re starting to worry about lobsters, crab and pteropods, an important food source for the Northwest’s iconic salmon species. We have to get at that root cause; we have to reduce CO2 emissions substantially, and we need to do it quickly. While the text of the climate agreement doesn’t say much about the ocean, it is all about reducing atmospheric CO2—which is a very good thing when it comes to the world’s ocean.

What surprised you?
The scale of this climate meeting was staggering. 50,000 people were in Paris for this event. In the Parisian suburb of La Bourget, huge buildings were erected for all of the delegates. This was the most international event I’ve ever been to—195 nations!

What will you remember most about COP21?
Most memorable is the fact that the international negotiators did reach consensus on what is truly the most far reaching, specific agreement that has ever been reached on climate change…and they got 195 countries to agree on it. It was a huge breakthrough and success, and it was exciting to have been there. I’ll remember that most. Second, was the hospitality shown by the Parisians. They were absolutely wonderful. They were friendly, helpful, and cheerful. Following on the heels of the terrorist attacks in the city, the Parisians seemed glad we were there working on something so positive.

What’s next?
Now the hard work really starts. We should have more concerted, consistent leadership from nations across the world. That will help and be incredibly important for the long-term success of this work. I know there will still be a need for leadership at the state, county and city levels. For example, progress on energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and rooftop solar will happen more at the local than the national level. These are important building blocks for progress in addressing climate change and will benefit the ocean.

As well, I am optimistic for the future and for issues that Ocean Conservancy is working on like advancing the science of ocean acidification. The Paris meeting was a demonstration of the increasing recognition of the importance of ocean health and increasing coordination between ocean acidification scientists globally. I saw scientists from France working with scientists from the Philippines and the US and so on. Today, there is much better coordination on ocean acidification research and monitoring, and we’re answering the most pressing questions first. Scientists are helping industry mitigate and adapt to the changing ocean chemistry. And on the policy side, I’m working with colleagues who are connecting policy makers from jurisdictions making progress with those just learning about the science of ocean acidification. It is a great time to be working on protecting our coastal communities and Ocean Conservancy has really led the way on what I consider to be one of the world’s great challenges.

Sunset from Shoreline COP21 COP21 COP21 ]]>
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Q&A with Coral Reef Expert Danielle Dixson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/02/qa-with-danielle-dixson/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/02/qa-with-danielle-dixson/#comments Wed, 02 Dec 2015 14:00:31 +0000 Sage Melcer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11122

Ocean Conservancy is bringing Danielle Dixson, an expert on coral reef fishes, to Capitol Hill to speak to congressional staffers about ocean acidification. She will be participating in a panel hosted by Ocean Conservancy in partnership with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Mark Takai (D-HI), along with the Ocean Caucus. She recently took some time to speak with us about her work at the University of Delaware.

OC: You’re a self-proclaimed “fish-nerd” and a tireless advocate for ocean health, what drives your passion?

DD:  The ocean is important for numerous reasons; climate regulation, a protein supply for millions of people, and storm protection for coastal communities. The ocean is also beautiful and people love enjoying the beach to unwind. However, because humans do not live underwater, we often overlook the damage inflicted on the ocean. Coral reefs are the ocean equivalent to ecologically important rainforests and their degradation is happening at an alarming rate. I work to raise public awareness about consequences of our behaviors on the ocean because I believe that only understanding stimulates change.

OC: If a stranger stopped you on the street and asked you what you do as a career, how would you explain it to them?

DD:  At the University of Delaware I wear many hats. As a professor I teach marine science courses, and advise students conducting independent research. As a marine ecologist, I study global problems affecting our ocean and share my findings through scientific publications and conference presentations. I also engage the general public through forums such as DVDs and public speaking that are accessible to a range of ages and backgrounds. This helps my projects run smoothly by educating those reliant on the marine environment, as well as being personally fulfilling.

OC: What’s the research you are currently working on?

DD: Broadly, I study how marine animals use sensory information to make important decisions and how their choices impact conservation and management in a changing ecosystem. I’m particularly interested in the coastal environment, since human interaction there is high. Currently my work includes understanding how human-induced changes will affect the behavior of marine organisms. I also am studying how alterations to the terrestrial shoreline will affect aquatic communities, and what affect multiple stressors will have when experienced simultaneously.

OC: Why is it important for ordinary citizens to understand how ocean chemistry affects fishes’ sensory cues?

DD:  Any environmental change that affects behavioral interactions can have huge ramifications at an ecosystem level. Ocean acidification is directly linked to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from humans, but that means humans can make decisions to reduce their individual footprints. Carpooling, eating sustainable and locally-sourced food and recycling all impact CO2 emissions that enter the atmosphere. Understanding ALL these ramifications will help people adjust their behavior for the global good.

OC: You’ll be speaking with congressional staffers in Washington D.C. on ocean acidification’s impacts on fish behavior. What are the key points you will address? 

DD:  Scientists first thought ocean acidification was beneficial because the ocean absorbed excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Without this the earth would be a much warmer place. Scientists now know this is causing water pH to drop, and the ocean to become more acidic. While we understand the chemistry, we do not understand the consequences for organisms living in this rapidly changing environment. Research in my lab demonstrates that while fishes can survive in water with pH levels projected in the near future, they exhibit behavioral and cognitive abnormalities including the inability to perceive and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli. A clownfish under current ambient water conditions (400 pCO2) can use smell to avoid a predator. However, clownfish raised in future pH levels (1000 pCO2) prefer the predator cue instead of avoiding it. These changes have been shown in other species, like the Temperate shark and several small damselfish, and with other sensory stimuli, including hearing, the ability to learn and general behavior.

We are excited to have Danielle speaking on behalf of Ocean Conservancy on such an important issue, and look forward to seeing her on Capitol Hill!

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Q&A With Claudine Hauri on her Work in the Southern Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/19/qa-with-claudine-hauri-on-her-work-in-the-southern-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/19/qa-with-claudine-hauri-on-her-work-in-the-southern-ocean/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:00:51 +0000 Sage Melcer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11067

Ocean Conservancy spoke with Claudine Hauri about her publication this week in Nature Climate Change on the future impacts of ocean acidification on the Southern Ocean, the body of water surrounding Antarctica and the southern tip of South America. Claudine is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii and Research Assistant Professor at the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and focuses on how physical, chemical and biological systems influence variability of ocean acidification and carbon cycling in the ocean.

 Q: What does your study show about ocean health?

A: We found that over the next several decades, ocean acidification will quickly change the chemistry of the Southern Ocean so that pteropods, small snails that are important to the marine food web, may struggle to form their shells. Our results suggest that the duration of conditions that are harmful to pteropods may increase abruptly from one month to more than six months in less than 20 years upon their onset. Given that we expect these conditions to get worse, it’s uncertain whether pteropods can adapt.

Q: How does this research fit into your previous work?

A: My previous work analyzes how ocean acidification may change the intensity, duration and frequency of such harmful conditions along the U.S. West Coast. There, the seawater is naturally enriched with CO2 due to seasonal upwelling of deep, CO2-rich water. Ocean acidification over the last few decades has pushed the seawater closer to becoming harmful for pteropods. As a result, they have to expend more energy to fight dissolution and are exposed to increased risk of mortality and infection. If acidification causes pteropods to die off, a crucial food source for many organisms such as salmon and whales will be gone.

Q: How did you come to focus on ocean acidification in the Southern Ocean for your most recent publication?

A: The Southern Ocean and the U.S. West Coast have a lot in common. Just like the waters along the West Coast, the Southern Ocean is naturally closer to the threshold critical for pteropod survival, and these tiny sea snails also play an important role in the food web. So I decided to look at the Southern Ocean a little closer and get a better understanding of how long and where these ecologically important tiny sea snails may be exposed to harmful conditions over the next century.

Q: What would you most like people to know about your research?

A: Ocean acidification is on the brink of threatening many of our marine ecosystems. The only way to mitigate this risk is to make immediate and significant reductions in our carbon dioxide emissions.

To learn more about the future impacts of ocean acidification on the Southern Ocean, you can find Claudine’s complete study here; along with a video she produced on her research.


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The Future Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/20/future-oceans/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/20/future-oceans/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 15:33:09 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10912

Ocean change is happening, and all of us who love and rely on the ocean are recognizing how important that is for our future. Ocean Conservancy recently participated in the Our Ocean conference in Chile, where global leaders convened to advance solutions to changes and threats to our ocean like illegal fishing, marine plastic pollution, and ocean acidification. Scientists, too, have been focusing on these challenging problems and responses to them. It is clear that if we are to confront the consequences of a changing ocean, we will need more and better science to anticipate these changes and respond proactively to protect the ocean’s future and our own.

The recently-released Nereus Program report, “Predicting Future Oceans: Climate Change, Oceans & Fisheries,” is a key tool for helping us do so. It lays out the key challenges in managing the ocean under climate change and also presents key strategies to address these challenges. Based on the latest scientific findings from innovative research on marine ecosystems and ocean governance, the Nereus report offers a short, easily-readable overview of current and future ocean phenomena and a guide on the actions needed to keep our ocean healthy and productive, especially with respect to fisheries and seafood production. The report highlights a large body of research from over 25 academic articles written or co-authored by global ocean experts affiliated with the Nereus Program.

Central to the report are seven main conclusions. The report states:

1. Due to CO2 emissions, changes in global ocean properties – particularly temperatures, acidity and oxygen levels – are occurring at a scale unprecedented in the last several thousands of years.

2. Climate change is expected to affect the oceans’ biological productivity — from phytoplankton to the top predators.

3. Climate change has already been affecting global marine ecosystems and fisheries, with further impacts expected given current trends in CO2 emissions.

4. Fishing exerts significant pressure on marine ecosystems globally – altering biodiversity and food web structures – and affects the ability of the international community to meet its sustainability goals.

5. The impacts of climate change interact with the existing problems of overfishing and habitat destruction, driven largely by excess fishing fleets, coastal development and market expansion.

6. Aquaculture is developing rapidly, with the potential to supersede marine capture fish supply. Yet, the full understanding of its impact, including its long-term ecological and social sustainability, is unclear.

7. Sustainable fisheries in the future require the further development and strengthening of international fisheries law, as well as the overarching international framework for ocean governance.

To address these challenges, the report recommends six strategies that can work in concert to improve ocean and socioeconomic health:

1. Bringing CO2 emissions under control.

2. Maintaining biodiversity, habitat and ecosystem structure.

3. Diversifying the “toolkit” for fisheries management.

4. Adopting economic systems that support sustainable practice.

5. Enhancing cooperation and coordination between international fisheries regulation and regulation of other maritime activities.

6. Ensuring equitable distribution and access for fishing in vulnerable communities.

At Ocean Conservancy, we know the ocean is critical to all life. Actionable and effective solutions require that we better understand and predict changes to our coasts and ocean. The Nereus Report is an important contribution to bringing the best, most relevant information to bear to protect, maintain, and restore healthy ocean ecosystems. It is especially relevant to our ongoing work at Ocean Conservancy; right now, for example, our fisheries and ocean planning programs are grappling with how multiple human-induced stressors affect ocean and fishery health. We are applying new tools and techniques in improved fishery management and smart ocean planning to ensure we can rely on and enjoy the ocean for years to come.

The future is coming to the ocean of today. We need to take action now to ensure we protect our future ocean. More science — like that in the Nereus Report — can help us do that.

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U.S. Announces Ambitious Program to Save the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:00:08 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9505

Photo: USFWS

At this month’s Arctic Council meeting in Yellowknife, Canada, the U.S. Department of State announced key initiatives that it plans on pursuing when it assumes the two year Chair of the eight-nation council in April 2015.

These initiatives, presented under the theme of “One Arctic:  Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities,” will focus largely on reducing the causes of and impacts from climate change and will include projects ranging from reducing emissions of short lived climate pollutants to developing a circumpolar Arctic network of Marine Protected Areas.

The U.S. announced their priority programs in three distinct thematic areas:

  1. Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change in the Arctic,
  2. Stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, and
  3. Improving Economic and Living Conditions in the Arctic.

As climate change is causing the remote Arctic ecosystems to change more rapidly than any other region on the planet, Ocean Conservancy applauds the ambitious and comprehensive nature of these initiatives.

Ocean Conservancy previously undertook an in-depth review of the current state of Arctic science and management. We recommended that the U.S. take this opportunity to begin the difficult but urgent process of marine spatial planning and conservation by developing a regional seas program for the Arctic Ocean, protecting important ecological areas, and addressing climate pollutants that are the underlying cause of wildlife and habitat declines in the globally unique Arctic marine environment.  We are proud to report that all of these components were prominent in the U.S. plans.

The U.S. priorities represent a significant move forward from the Economic Development focus of the conservative Canadian government – the current Chair – and were well received by the eight Arctic nations and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations who sit at the table. While we cannot solve the multitude of issues confronting the Arctic during the two-year U.S. Chair, we can continue our progress in 2017 and beyond when the conservation-minded Finnish government assumes the Chair.

There will still be a focus on improving living conditions and encouraging sustainable development in remote Arctic communities through programs such as renewable energy initiatives and protecting freshwater resources. The U.S. conservation priorities, however, will help the Council, which was founded in the 1990s as an outgrowth of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, get back to its roots and address the ecological changes in the rapidly melting Arctic.  This will occur with management and coordination through a regional seas agreement and program, and at site specific levels, including enacting protections for important ecological areas and habitat for Arctic wildlife.

The U.S. focus on climate change is particularly important now that other large emitters, including China, the European Union, and India, have been admitted to the Arctic Council as Observers.  This means that the Arctic Council will be another venue for collaborative work on reducing emissions of climate pollutants. With the recent announcement of a bilateral U.S. and China program to reduce emissions, Ocean Conservancy has high hopes that this work will continue and expand through focused dialogue at the Arctic Council.

Further signaling the U.S. commitment to using the two year Chair of the Arctic Council to achieve real progress in saving the Arctic was the announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry himself will act as the Chair of the Council and that the U.S. will undertake both public outreach and scientific initiatives to help us better understand the Arctic and the challenges that wildlife and communities are confronting with the impacts of climate change.

As one of only two conservation organizations accredited to work at the Arctic Council,  Ocean Conservancy looks forward to using our unique access to this high level intergovernmental forum to ensure that these ambitious initiatives to save the Arctic and its wildlife are achieved.

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Ocean Acidification on the International Stage http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/04/ocean-acidification-on-the-international-stage/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/04/ocean-acidification-on-the-international-stage/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 14:22:18 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7989 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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