Ocean Currents » gulf coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Where Are the “Hotspots” For Ocean Acidification? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/24/where-are-the-hotspots-for-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/24/where-are-the-hotspots-for-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:38:21 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9921

By now, coastal communities are asking: “Who’ll be hit next by ocean acidification? And what can people do?” Until now, we haven’t known where exactly in the United States ocean acidification is most likely to affect marine ecosystems, and where the effects on people could be greatest. (Fortunately, several forward-thinking states are already studying the issue and recommending next steps!)

Three years ago, I teamed up with an economist, a human geographer, and another ocean acidification scientist to lead a study that would identify ocean acidification “hotspots” around the United States – places where ocean changes will be large and coastal communities depend heavily on shellfish harvests, but where people don’t have many resources to guard against losses of these harvests. We gathered a group of 20 science and policy experts to study the issue at the National Science Foundation-funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Since then, we’ve synthesized information about the oceanography, shellfish harvests, and coastal communities across the United States in a formal risk assessment. We’ve just published our results in Nature Climate Change this week.

There were a couple results that really surprised us. Most amazing of all, we found that there is no single region in the United States that maxes out all the scales: no place has the greatest chance of ocean acidification, the greatest dependence on shellfish harvests, and the lowest amount of resources to fight it. While that’s good news, it does make the job of comparing hotspots across the country much harder.

Different shellfish-harvesting areas of the country face risk from ocean acidification from different mixtures of factors.

The Pacific Northwest, whose $272 million, 3,200 job Pacific oyster industry has already been endangered by ocean acidification, faces risk from multiple oceanographic factors like dissolving atmospheric carbon dioxide, upwelling, and nutrient pollution, and it also depends heavily on money and jobs from shellfish harvests. But the area is full of experts on ocean acidification, who have worked together with growers to fight it. The Northeast United States doesn’t have as many oceanographic risk factors, but it is home to many extremely valuable and historic shellfish industries. Think of New Bedford, Massachusetts’ sea scallop fishery, New England’s quahog and chowder clam harvests,  and Virginia and Maryland’s recently reborn Eastern oyster industry. These areas haven’t invested as heavily as the Pacific Northwest has to study the issue and develop defenses, even though a lot of money and jobs are at stake. The Gulf Coast also doesn’t have as many ocean risk factors, but certain counties and parishes, like Plaquemines, Terrebonne, and St. Bernard parishes in Louisiana, make a lot of money from oyster harvests. There are almost no efforts in the Gulf region to track acidification and take defensive action to protect local jobs and income.

Another shocking result was how little information exists about how our nation makes a living from the water. As this was a synthesis project, we limited ourselves to data that had already been collected rather than going door-to-door and doing our own surveys. While there are fantastic public databases concerning some aspects of marine harvests, there are some gigantic holes. For example, we don’t know which coastal towns could lose the most jobs if shellfish harvests decrease. But that’s powerful information that will help citizens plan for a changing ocean.

I’m glad that so many states are already studying what ocean acidification will mean for them. But our new study reminds us that planning ahead for acidification doesn’t just mean focusing on the water. We also need to think about people and harvests, too. Strengthening coastal communities or safeguarding shellfish harvests involves sharing knowledge within communities, and teaming up to research new ways to sustain marine populations. Some inventive solutions are already being tested: Pacific Northwest shellfish growers are “sweetening” water in their hatchery tanks with carbonate minerals, and they are thinking how to breed more resilient young shellfish. Communities are considering how to cut nutrient pollution that worsens ocean acidification while they work on long-term projects to cut carbon dioxide emissions too. Strategic investments in ocean acidification research that will prepare coastal communities for the future also need to include work on land, to gather key data about people and to strengthen their ties to each other to share ideas and solutions.

Figure: Cartoon showing all the risk factors in our study. Upwelling, river discharge, and nutrient pollution worsen ocean acidification. At the same time, ocean acidification (ocean acidity, in the figure) will reach a critical point for shellfish larvae at different dates around the country (gray tones). On land, dependence on shellfish harvests and communities’ ability to cope can be combined into a social vulnerability score (red tones).

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Marine Restoration Report Emphasizes Importance of Offshore Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/marine-restoration-report-emphasizes-importance-of-offshore-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/marine-restoration-report-emphasizes-importance-of-offshore-waters/#comments Thu, 06 Sep 2012 17:55:04 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2856

Credit: Calsidyrose flickr stream

Yesterday I wrote about Hurricane Isaac’s impacts to our coastal environment as well as the unfortunate reminder that an unknown quantity of BP oil still lingers in the Gulf, needing only time and the right conditions to once again wreak havoc on our beaches, marshes and coastal communities.

Events like hurricanes serve as sobering reminders of how critical coastal restoration initiatives are to the long-term sustainability of our Gulf communities, our economies and, of course, our natural resources. But as critical as restoration of our coastal resources are, they are only part of a larger picture of ecosystem restoration in the region. Restoration of our marine resources are equally important to preserving our coastal way of life.

Ocean Conservancy views restoration of the Gulf ecosystem as a three-legged stool. Each leg depends on the other for balance and function. If you lose one leg, you no longer have a strong base, and you will almost certainly topple. The three legs of restoration in the Gulf are: restoration of the coastal environment, the marine environment and coastal communities.

We must focus our effort, energy and funding resources to all three of these vital areas if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Are there competing needs for limited funds? Yes? Do we have to find a way to do all three? Absolutely.

When I talk to people about the importance of marine restoration in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster (after all, the explosion happened offshore, and the vast majority of oil is still lurking beneath the surface of the Gulf), the first question I am asked is how one would actually go about restoring marine resources.

To answer that question, Ocean Conservancy, along with the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative (GOMURC) convened experts from academic, governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as fishing groups to serve as panelists in a workshop to identify and rank marine restoration priorities.

In a spirit of cooperation and creativity and with a clear recognition that our Gulf citizens and economies cannot thrive without a healthy marine environment, these experts spent two very long days discussing and vetting marine restoration concepts that, while not exhaustive, provide an important resource for talking about restoration of our blue water resources.

The outcome of those discussions, the Marine Restoration Workshop Report, is a clarion call to consider our blue water any time we think about restoration in the Gulf region from ocean habitats to fishery resources to marine wildlife and human uses of marine resources.

You can read the report in its entirety here.

Because the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was unprecedented in size, depth, duration and distance from shore, there is relatively little experience to guide the planning and implementation of restoration measures specifically for the marine environment, with emphasis on offshore habitats, species and human uses.

This report focuses on marine ecosystem priorities in order to supplement and complement the assessments and resources that are devoted, appropriately, to the restoration of coastal environments.

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Wetlands: Going, Going, Gone? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/27/wetlands-going-going-gone/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/27/wetlands-going-going-gone/#comments Wed, 27 Jun 2012 21:10:04 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1324

Credit: NOAA

A quiet victim went unseen in many of the images of oil-soaked animals publicized during the BP oil disaster. While many of us were moved by the plight of animals caught up in this man-made disaster, we should also be concerned for the wetland plants quietly suffering in the background.

Because of an expanding human footprint and natural processes, Gulf wetlands are declining at an accelerated rate exacerbated by the BP oil disaster. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, reported on in The Advocate, shows the BP oil disaster doubled the erosion rates of wetlands in some areas.

This critical habitat offers hurricane protection to the coast and serves as the nursery grounds, homes, food source and safe-havens to countless marine species. The Mississippi River is still working, as it has for thousands of years, to create these remarkably productive wetlands.

According to the study, marsh plants in Barataria Bay that were covered 70-80% in oil died. The loss of the glue that holds marshlands together left the ground susceptible to increased erosion. Heavily oiled areas actually show twice the normal five foot rate of erosion in the year-and-a-half after the BP oil disaster: a loss of ten feet.

Research shows that when marsh grass was replanted, some seedlings survived  in slightly oily sediment, but others weren’t so lucky. Replanted marsh grass in areas of wetlands that suffered heavier oiling and an increased erosion rate induced by the BP oil disaster simply died.

It is good news that marsh plants can be reestablished in somewhat oily sediment; the bad news is that wetlands with higher levels of oil residue and erosion won’t be able to support life without help. BP must be held accountable for all impacts. Some results of the disaster, like the ones discovered in this study, are just beginning to be fully understood. A long-term research and monitoring program and a well-funded and robust science program will help to ensure that BP makes it right.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to doing everything we can, in coordination with all willing partners, to advocate for science-based restoration plans that go beyond the oil disaster and address the entire Gulf as one interconnected ecosystem. And while wetland restoration is a key component, we need further steps to complete the picture. We must:

  • protect the region’s cultural and natural heritage;
  • increase economic opportunities;
  • enhance recreational opportunities;
  • slow the rate of land loss;
  • and sustain the entire ecosystem.

Together, we will build a vision of a healthy and prosperous Gulf.

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