The Blog Aquatic » ocean acidification News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:48:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Does Ocean Acidification Mean for our Coasts? Thu, 07 Aug 2014 12:30:35 +0000 Sarah Cooley

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 

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Science in the hands that need it: Turning the tide on ocean acidification in New Zealand Fri, 01 Aug 2014 16:55:30 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

In 2013, I worked on a shellfish boat in New Zealand.  We used hydraulic systems to lift lines of shellfish out of the water, conveyor belts to sort them, and packaged mussels by the thousands in giant, half ton sacks.  A far cry from the low-tech nighttime dredging from a longtail boat I saw in Thailand.

With this technological edge, surely New Zealand shellfish farmers are less vulnerable to ocean acidification than those in regions like Southeast Asia.

But that is not what I found.  I found shellfish farmers in New Zealand to be highly vulnerable to ocean acidification. This wasn’t because the country lacked the technology or knowledge to be resilient, but because that technology and knowledge wasn’t making it into the hands of the shellfish farmers.

The oyster farmers I lived and worked with on Stewart Island told me how the oysters they grew hadn’t reproduced properly in two years.  Was this caused by ocean acidification?  There was no way to know really, because nobody was monitoring the chemistry of the local waters, and nobody had studied how this species might respond to ocean acidification.

I spoke with one of the pioneers of the green-lipped mussel farming industry in the Marlborough Sounds.  “Have people here been talking about ocean acidification?” I asked him. “No, not at all, not at all.”

Three weeks earlier, when I attended the New Zealand Workshop on ocean acidification, there had been a lot of talk.  But the discussions at the 2013 workshop didn’t focus on the concerns of the New Zealanders most vulnerable to ocean acidification.  Only a handful of the 50+ papers presented at the meeting were about shellfish species grown in New Zealand.  This isn’t to say the research presented at the workshop wasn’t scientifically relevant or important to understanding the mechanisms of ocean acidification on a global level, It absolutely was.  But it begged the question: when you have a current crisis like ocean acidification, shouldn’t we focus some science on answering the questions of the people and communities most at risk?

That’s the conclusion I came to.  And, I’m happy to say, New Zealand has come to that conclusion, too.  In December 2013, the United States Department of State, in collaboration with Global Ocean Health, the Marine Conservation Institute, the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries and other partners, sponsored a workshop called “Future proofing New Zealand’s shellfish aquaculture: monitoring and adaptation to ocean acidification.”

The workshop brought experts from the frontlines of the oyster crisis in the Pacific Northwest to New Zealand.  For the first time, scientists and industry members were in the same room, talking about ocean acidification together.

And they have kept talking.  Since the workshop, key industry partners have stepped up to sponsor a new monitoring network that will focus on important shellfish growing regions.  The 2014 New Zealand Ocean Acidification Workshop featured sessions on managing and monitoring ocean acidification.  Industry members, who, in early 2013, had voiced doubt over the impact of ocean acidification on the shellfish industry, were suddenly giving presentations on the threat of ocean acidification to their livelihood.  The organizers of the original, December 2013, workshop just released a beautiful video highlighting the value of shellfish to New Zealand, and the threats ocean acidification poses.

So what’s the key here?  What was the turning point? It’s simple, really.  It was bringing industry, science and policy together, and uniting them with a common goal: to understand how communities and industries might be affected by ocean acidification, and to do something about it.  It happened in New Zealand and Washington, it’s happening in Maine and Maryland, and it needs to be happening everywhere.

Mussel farms fill the waters of New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds. These fine-meshed nets are designed to catch wild spat, or mussel seed, in the Marlborough Sounds.  Mussel farmers I spoke with complained of an inconsistent supply of natural spat in recent years.  New monitoring programs in the Marlborough Sounds will allow us to see the chemical conditions of these crucial spat-collection areas. A family-owned mussel boat utilizes specialized ropes and hydraulic equipment. Though these technologies save sweat and increase production yields, they are hugely expensive, often requiring families to invest everything they have into their farm equipment. A woman collects data on bio-fouling on mussel lines in the Marlborough Sounds.  The coming years will likely see an influx in ocean acidification research in the Marlborough Sounds. Even small operations, like this oyster boat in Stewart Island, utilize expensive technology.  The owners of this boat have not seen natural reproduction in the oysters they work with in three years. ]]> 0
Alaska in the Spotlight: Supporting Communities Facing the Big Risks From Ocean Acidification Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:15:31 +0000 Sarah Cooley

The total risk of Alaska’s boroughs and census areas from ocean acidification. Red areas are at highest risk, while blue areas are at lowest risk. Population size (circles), commercial harvest value (dollar sign size), and subsistence fishing significance (fish icon size) contribute to the total risk. Reprinted from Progress in Oceanography.

We know that some people will be more at risk than others as a result of ocean acidification. We have seen this with oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest.  Scientists are now trying to determine what puts certain regions at greater risk than others from ocean acidification. Before I came to Ocean Conservancy, I helped lead a study on this question for Alaska, and it’s just been published in Progress in Oceanography this week.

My coauthors and I found that many of southwest and southeast Alaska’s boroughs and census areas (similar to counties or parishes in other states) face social and economic risk from ocean acidification – namely, many of the foods they eat and sell for income, all coming from the sea, are threatened by changes in the ocean’s chemistry.

A number of factors combine to elevate risk in certain regions of Alaska. The unique oceanography that makes Alaska’s coastal oceans productive also makes them more susceptible to acidification. Commercial and recreational fisheries that rely heavily on crabs and clams—species that are more likely to be hurt by acidification—pose serious economic risk to both individuals and industry. Many of Alaska’s coastal residents feed themselves by harvesting crabs and clams, which means that they may face food security risks as their private harvests decline. And some risk doesn’t even come from the ocean at all. It comes from factors like low incomes, few industries, scarce jobs, limited education, and the high cost of imported foods that are common throughout many parts of Alaska.

By adding all of these factors together, our study showed that southeastern and southwestern Alaska face the greatest overall risk (see figure). At the same time, other factors like nutrient pollution from land, overfishing, and ice melting add stress to marine ecosystems and worsen the effects of ocean acidification.

Now that we know which areas could be hit hardest in Alaska and why, we can start to prevent future losses from ocean acidification. Since the main cause of ocean acidification is atmospheric carbon dioxide, we all need to work towards cutting emissions. But that will take time and many partnerships across the nation. While we work towards that, we can also defend Alaska’s coastal communities against ocean acidification by making them stronger from within.

Programs that help educate Alaska’s residents, attract a greater array of job opportunities, and improve access to affordable, nutritious food will help these communities avoid depending too heavily on natural resources that could disappear. We can also defend Alaska’s coastal communities with environmental stewardship efforts that decrease nutrient pollution, overfishing, and ice melting. Even though ocean acidification seems like an insurmountable problem that lies beyond individual actions, studies like this show that small actions, added up, can decrease the overall risk of communities from global changes like ocean acidification.

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Sight and Smell: How Traditional Methods Won’t Hold up Against Ocean Acidification Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:13:06 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

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. ]]> 0
The Thing You Can’t Measure: Ocean Acidification Threatens Culture and Identity in New Zealand Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:55:46 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

These last two weeks, I have shared stories of how ocean acidification could affect economies around the world. These tangible impacts can be measured by changes in jobs, access to resources and overall economic condition. But what about the impacts you can’t measure? What will those changes be, and how will they affect people?

Throughout my Watson Fellowship, I sought to understand these intangible impacts. These hard-to-measure threats to things like one’s sense of place, identity and culture may not have dollar signs behind them, but to many of the people I spoke with, they were of utmost importance.

To explain this, I will share what I learned about the value of marine resources in New Zealand. There are two strong cultural lineages in New Zealand – the indigenous Maori community, and the descendants of Western settlers, who came primarily from England. Despite their distinct backgrounds, my conversations with both groups came to the same conclusion: the availability of seafood in New Zealand, particularly shellfish, is a matter of identity. If that seafood is gone, then the identity of the entire country suffers.

In the Maori language, the words for generosity and the courtyard of the meeting house are the same: marae. Huhana Taiapa, a shellfish biologist working in Tauranga, New Zealand, told me that each marae in New Zealand is known for a particular food item. This food item is a source of pride for each marae, and in a showing of generosity, it is always served for guests of the marae.

For many marae in New Zealand, this treasured food is a species of shellfish. These treasured species, are “not just a form of food [for Maori people], they’re who they are,” Huhana told me. This references the concept of “mana,” a Maori term which Huhana defined as “a person’s being, or energy.” This energy, she explained, comes not just from you, but from your ancestors before you. The strength of you or your tribe’s mana depends on the strength of your culture and traditions.

Huhana told me how the availability of a marae’s treasured species affects their mana, saying, “If we can provide [that food] on the table, that means our mana as a people is upheld and preserved.  If we can’t provide [that food] then our mana is degraded.” Because the strength of your mana comes from the lineage before you, a breakdown of a long tradition like serving shellfish to visitors breaks an important link, and therefore poses significant harm to your mana.

For the descendants of Western settlers in New Zealand, shellfish and other types of seafood are also a matter of identity. Jim Barett, an oyster farmer from Stewart Island, New Zealand, told me of how his ancestors saw hope for a new life in New Zealand. In England, he explained, “Only the wealthy had access to resources.” And so when the settlers came to New Zealand, “they saw a land of plenty and allowed free access to it.” All beaches in New Zealand are public, and under their fisheries management programs, each citizen has a personal daily allotment of fish and shellfish. Keep in mind, the population of New Zealand is only 4.5 million, compared to 318 million in the United States. Their fisheries sector is strictly managed, and when you combine a well regulated fisheries sector with a small population size, there are abundant resources remaining for non-commercial use.

When I asked Jim what he wanted for his children and the next generation, he said, “I’d like [them] to be able to carry on doing what I did. To go and get a feed of shellfish or fish whenever they want.” He told me this was something all New Zealanders feel; “We feel we have a birth right, to be able to go down to the beach and catch a feed. It’s a very, very important part of our culture.”

His thoughts were echoed in nearly all conversations I had with New Zealanders. They all talked about this “right” to the resources of the sea, and the importance of preserving the abundance of those resources. At the Our Ocean Conference, I sat next to Shane Jones, New Zealand’s Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, during lunch. I told him of how every New Zealander I spoke with talked about their right to catch a feed at the beach, and the need to protect fisheries and preserve that right. He chuckled and said, “That’s absolutely right.”

Though the fishing industry has a strong economic presence in New Zealand, the economy was never the focus of my conversations there. Each person, whether young or old, male or female, Maori or European, returned to the value of an abundant sea, and in particular an abundant source of shellfish. The value of this abundance was never told in dollars, but as a matter of identity.

New Zealand was not the only place I visited with an identity entwined with the sea, and shellfish in particular. The $3 bill of Aitutaki has a sea snail shell on the front, and one of the regional slogans of Thailand’s Surat Thani is “huge oysters.” Though the value of shellfish and other marine resources as a source of pride or identity may be hard to measure, I came to see that it was a critical part of the story of how ocean acidification will affect people.

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The Ground Beneath Their Feet: The Threat of Ocean Acidification to a Small Island Thu, 10 Jul 2014 23:18:04 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

What if the ground beneath your feet, the very foundation of your life and livelihood, was at risk of eroding away?  What if the very thing from which you and your community draw 95% of your wealth was at risk of disappearing?

This is the reality that Aitutaki, a small island in the Cook Islands, and many other small islands around the world, are facing.  Aitutaki, and its stunning lagoon, is protected by a coral reef.  Powerful ocean waves crash on the edges of the reef, but because coral reduces wave strength by 97%, the lagoon and the coral sand beaches remain still and calm.  The value of this protection, and the environment it creates, cannot be overstated.

I spent seven weeks in the Cook Islands as part of my Watson Fellowship studying how ocean acidification might affect communities, and for six of those weeks I called the 6.5 mi2 island with 1,800 residents home. During that visit, I saw not only how delicate the island’s ecosystem is in the face of global stressors like climate change and ocean acidification, but also the value of the thriving economy and society built squarely on its coral.

The skeletons of coral are made of calcium carbonate—the same substance that forms the shells of oysters, mussels and clams.  As the ocean becomes more acidic, it becomes more difficult for coral and shellfish to form the calcium carbonate they need. Eventually, coral won’t be able to rebuild its skeleton as quickly as it is broken down.  Recent studies show that by mid-century, a majority of coral around the world will have trouble building their skeletons.

If the coral protecting Aitutaki is damaged by ocean acidification, or rising sea temperatures, the whole island is at risk.  The coral not only protects the island from waves and storms, it also creates the spectacular lagoon and marine habitat that supports the island’s dominant economy: tourism.

An officer in the Cook Islands Ministry of Tourism told me that he believes tourism accounts for 95% of his country’s GDP.  Just like the scallops in Sechura, the economy based on coral and the lagoon extends beyond the water to an entire hospitality industry, ranging from food services to transport to lodging.  And just like in Sechura, the economic boon created by marine resources creates immense opportunities and growth for local communities and families.  Before tourism, the people of Aitutaki lived off the land and sea.  The influx of money from tourism has created a whole new way of life; one in which food is flown in to this remote island from around the world, where islanders go abroad for education, and where traditional knowledge of subsistence living has all but disappeared.

Minister of Marine Resources for the Cook Islands, Teina Bishop, explained the predicament of this new economy very plainly. “Tourism is our industry, and the pillars of tourism are our environment and our culture.  If the coral goes away, we lose tourism.  If we lose tourism, we lose income, and people will leave.”

Yes, tourism now dominates the economy of Aitutaki and allows islanders more than just a subsistence livelihood.  But ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures, the very stresses that threaten the tourism industry, would also damage the island and the ability of islanders to return to a subsistence livelihood. That means it’s just not the current way of life on Aitutaki that is threatened, it is all life.  It is their home that is threatened.

And that’s what struck me.  Ocean acidification could impact all life on small islands around the world—islands that, like Aitutaki, depend on coral for the very ground beneath their feet.  But that doesn’t have to be Aitutaki’s reality.  When I asked the Mayor of Aitutaki, John Baxter, about the future, he said, “I am hopeful.” There is momentum around the world to reduce carbon pollution—the main cause of ocean acidification—and cutting-edge research is being done to better understand how corals respond to changing oceans.  But more needs to be done, and we all need to do our part.  In the United States, you can support increased funding for science by signing our petition to Congress.  Research efforts here can lend important information to islands like Aitutaki, and help give Mayor Baxter a reason to be hopeful.

Chunks of coral skeleton line the northern beaches of Aitutaki.  Over time, these skeletons break down and form the fine sand that fills the lagoon and delights tourists. An aerial photo I snapped on my way into Aitutaki shows how the brilliant turquoise of the lagoon dramatically shifts to a deep ocean blue, right where the coral drops off. Large waves crash on the edges of the coral reef, only a few hundred feet off shore. Tourists spent up to $10,000 to come to Aitutaki for the chance to catch and release the mighty bonefish, as these men are doing here. Tourists disembark a lagoon cruise that has just arrived at one of the islets within Aitutaki’s lagoon. Destination weddings are a large source of income for Aitutaki.  Here, Bishop Cruises (owned by Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop), has assembled a marriage arch on the stunning beach of One Foot island. The shores of this islet, called Honeymoon Island, could erode quickly if strong waves reached them. Louis, Mike and Cruise play traditional island songs for the patrons on the Bishops Cruise to One Foot Island. Puna has been leading lagoon cruises for 20 years, and hopes the lagoon will stay healthy enough to support his children and grandchildren. A young girl performs island dances for a crowd at a beach restaurant. Islanders line up outside of the Cook Islands Christian Church on ANZAC Day.  What may be a week-long visit in paradise to some is a home with a rich history to others. Teina Bishop, Minister of Marine Resources, is working with his office to enact local measures that will protect coral. My host mother, Eikura, wades in the lagoon in the pouring rain, setting a net to catch our dinner.  She told me of how much has changed about her home since tourism took over the economy, saying that the young people simply don’t know how to fish and farm like she did as a child. Louis, one of the entertainers on the Bishops Cruise, introduced me to his young niece.  Islanders are worried that the youngest generation won’t know how to return to a subsistence living if tourism can no longer support their economy. John Baxter, the mayor of Aitutaki, poses next to the truck of his family’s business.  He is hopeful that Aitutaki will remain strong, despite the growing challenges the island and its ecosystem face. ]]> 4
What Will Ocean Acidification Mean for a Small Town in Peru? Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:33:27 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

At the Our Ocean Conference, I had five minutes to tell an international audience why ocean acidification is a problem for people around the world. With my blog series this summer, we’re going to explore this further. I will share the stories of the people I met last year; stories that taught me how ocean acidification could threaten economies and cultures; stories that taught me the crucial need for increased monitoring, research and technology; and stories that taught me how all of us have a role to play in addressing ocean acidification.

Let’s start with the threat to economies. Just how important are the resources threatened by ocean acidification? To answer this, I want to tell you about two places that are very special to me: Sechura, in Northern Peru, and Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands. First, I will tell you about the scallop farming region of Sechura, and in my next post the tropical paradise of Aitutaki.

We know that ocean acidification threatens animals that build their shells from calcium carbonate, like oysters and scallops. We have seen the impact of ocean acidification on oysters in the Pacific Northwest, and a Canadian scallop farmer recently blamed his operation’s losses on ocean acidification. Scallops are grown around the world, and I had the chance to visit a new booming home of the scallop industry: Peru.

La Bahía de Sechura, or the Sechura Bay, is the 90 km wide bay that is home to Peru’s scallop farming industry. According to a sign by the road as you drive towards the docks, the bay is the “source of food and life for the world.” After six weeks in Sechura, it became clear to me that this sign was no understatement.

In Sechura, scallops don’t simply employ those who collect them from the bay, those hauling sacks of shells on docks, or those shucking and packaging scallops in processing plants. This $70 million export economy is a profound driver of the entire Sechura economy. Since the scallop industry took off in Sechura about ten years ago, an entire hospitality industry has emerged from nothing. There are now hotels and restaurants for business visitors, busses for long-distance commuters, and an informal taxi fleet for thousands of divers and deckhands to travel from the town to the dock forty minutes away. In Manocra, a tourist destination a few hours north of Sechura, artists take the scallop shells and sew them into purses, or elaborate lamps.

Each of these jobs requires a variety of skills, and the diversity of jobs allows for a variety of lifestyles. In Sechura, parents can ensure a steady income while alternating childcare duties when the father works mornings as a diver or deckhand, and the mother works evenings at the processing plants. Scallops also provide employment for those who are shut out of the job market otherwise. A man in a wheelchair in Mancora who told me, “Here, there is a lot of discrimination. If there are problems [with the shells] in the future, I have no options. It will be very difficult to find other work.”

These emerging industries and jobs, and the opportunities they create, have increased the quality of life in Sechura. Scallops have even improved the sanitation of the region. These hunks of sweet, white meat are extremely valuable in the export market, and extremely vulnerable to contamination from pollution. Thus, the towns surrounding the bay have taken it upon themselves to improve the quality of the water thereby improving the environment for both the scallops and the locals! For example, fishermen have redesigned the toilets on their boats to be self-contained, and the town surrounding the landing dock is building a new sewer system to control spills into the waterway.

With so many industries and opportunities supported by scallop farming, a collapse in scallop production due to ocean acidification could cause the entire economy to collapse along with the quality of life. A man selling produce in the market summarized this when he said to me, “Si no hay conchas en Sechura, no hay nada.” If there are no scallops in Sechura, there is nothing.

Scallops mean everything to Sechura. Everything. Ocean acidification threatens everything in this corner of northern Peru.

This sign on the road leading to the bay reads, “Bahía de Sechura: Fuente de alimento y vida para el mundo,” which translates to “Sechura Bay: Source of food and life for the world.” Gabrielle, the daughter of a hatchery owner, holds tiny scallops in her outstretched hand This beautiful statue in the town center of Sechura depicts a fisherman out at sea A diver prepares to enter the water. His only air source underwater is the plastic, free-flowing tube he holds between his teeth. Willie stands over scallops he has collected for students on a research cruise Deckhands monitor the air source of the divers blow A man at Seacorp Peru repairs lantern nets that will hold young scallops Men on docks carry sacks for scallops from boats to trucks set for processing plants The manager of an informal taxi system directs passengers to a car headed from Sechura to the docks Mercedes, an artist in Mancora, poses next to a curtain she wove with shells These elaborate lamps provide specialized employment for those shut out of the traditional labor force ]]> 2