Ocean Currents » ocean acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:58:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 How an Argument Led to a Big Discovery: An Interview with USGS Scientist Kim Yates http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/24/how-an-argument-led-to-a-big-discovery-an-interview-with-usgs-scientist-kim-yates/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/24/how-an-argument-led-to-a-big-discovery-an-interview-with-usgs-scientist-kim-yates/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:58:30 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14228

Dr. Kim Yates, research oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey. Credit: Benjamin Drummond for Ocean Conservancy.

The Ocean Conservancy ocean acidification team has spent time in Florida over the past year talking with fishermen and scientists to better understand how changes in ocean chemistry are affecting Florida’s coastal communities and its marine resources, including its iconic coral reefs and fish. On our most recent visit, we interviewed Dr. Kim Yates, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, who is an expert on ocean acidification impacts on coral reef ecosystems about vanishing sea floors and how arguing with a boat captain led her to a major scientific discovery.

Ocean Conservancy: Dr. Yates, how does ocean acidification affect coral reefs and the ecosystems around them?

Dr. Kim Yates: The animals that create coral reefs thrive in a particular range of pH and carbonate, which is a chemical they use to help build their skeletons. Reefs provide habitat for fish and other reef life, but the skeletons of reef organisms also naturally break down and make sand. And much of that sand supports a lot of ecosystems around the reef. That sand also helps nourish beaches along coral reef coastlines. Ocean acidification causes reefs to slow down their growth rate, and when that happens, they don’t break down into as much sand that supports the surrounding ecosystems and even the beaches. And when the pH of seawater decreases from ocean acidification, it can actually even cause the sand that’s made out of that carbonate material to start dissolving.

OC: But corals only border some areas of Florida. Why should the whole state pay attention to ocean acidification?

KY: One of the most unique and interesting things about the state of Florida is that our entire state sits on top of what we call a carbonate platform, or rock made out of the same material as coral skeletons. We don’t know how ocean acidification is going to affect the bedrock that supports our entire state. When ocean acidification decreases the pH of seawater, it can cause that carbonate material to dissolve. So this problem of ocean acidification is not just localized to our coral reefs, or to our shellfish beds, it’s a statewide problem for Florida.

OC: What inspired you to look at Florida’s bedrock and sand, and not just living corals?

KY: That research actually started with an argument I had with a boat captain. One day we were working out in the Florida Keys on a reef and I was snorkeling around, looking for a place to put some instrumentation down on the sea floor. And the captain told me to motion to him when I found a good place and he would bring to boat over, close enough so we could put the instrumentation on the sea floor. So I looked around, and I found the spot, and I motioned to the boat captain, but the boat captain wouldn’t come over. And so I motioned to the boat captain again and he still wouldn’t come over. And so, somewhat frustrated, I swam all the way back to the boat and I said, “Captain, you told me to let you know when I wanted you to come over and anchor the boat. And you wouldn’t come. What’s going on?” He said, “I can’t bring the boat over there. It’s only two feet deep.” I looked at him and said, “No, there’s 12 feet of water over there.” And he said, “No there’s not,” and he pulled out the chart, and he laid it on the table and said, “See, it’s only 2 feet deep.” Sure enough, the chart said two feet deep. I had to put him in the water and swim him over to show him there was actually 12 feet of water there.

Thinking about it later, I realized there was either a serious problem with the nautical chart or we were missing ten feet of sea floor in that location. As it turns out, many modern day nautical charts actually combine sea floor or water depth data from decades past. So if you’re looking at a 2010 nautical chart, it might combine data measured by hand from the 1870s and the 1930s and the 1950s as well as modern data measured by satellite. And so we launched a large-scale investigation, comparing all of the historical water depth data to modern elevation data. 

Dr. Yates prepares her equipment to collect data. Photo Credit: Benjamin Drummond for Ocean Conservancy.

OC: What did your research show?

KY: We discovered that coral reef degradation in Florida has caused a dramatic decrease in regional sea floor elevation. In other words, coral reef breakdown is flattening the sea floor.

But coral reefs and a bumpy sea floor are important for slowing down big waves. When you stand on a beach and watch surfers, they are usually way offshore because that’s where the big waves are. You can see those big waves breaking offshore, and the surfers ride them as they are breaking. But, by the time the waves reach the beach where you are standing, they are much smaller. That’s because coral reef structure and shallow seafloor breaks the big waves up offshore before they make it to the beach. When you lose that shallow seafloor or coral reef structure, or both, those big waves can make it to the beach before they break up. There, they will cause more erosion and damage along the coastline. The shallow seafloor and coral reefs act as a natural barrier that breaks up large waves before they hit the coastline.

South Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise because the highest areas on land in the Florida Keys are only about six feet above sea level. So when you have incoming storm waves, everyday waves and coastal erosion, it’s much more concerning when you’re only living about six feet above sea level. Reefs are a key defense protecting us from ocean waves. Our research is going to help USGS better predict how these changes are going to affect these coastal communities today and into the future.

Dr. Yates’ research made the front page of the Miami Herald on April 21. Learn more about how she and her fellow scientists have uncovered the phenomenon of a vanishing sea floor off the coast of Florida.


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Urgent: Trump Can’t Ignore the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/urgent-trump-cant-ignore-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/urgent-trump-cant-ignore-the-ocean/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 15:31:04 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13688

I’m a scientist, and I’ve dedicated my life to finding solutions that help people and coastal communities. It may sound complicated, but really, it’s simple—if you add carbon emissions to seawater, the ocean turns more acidic. I’ve visited with shellfish growers and coastal businesses across the country, and I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of acidification.

So you can imagine my surprise, when Scott Pruitt—the nominee for the head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)—was asked directly by Senators about ocean acidification, he wasn’t even willing to admit that ocean acidification is happening.

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on Mr. Pruitt for the head of the EPA. We want Senators to vote NO and OPPOSE Pruitt based on his unwillingness to admit that ocean acidification is really happening.

I can’t sit back and watch politics harm our coastal communities. We gave Scott Pruitt a chance, we listened to what he had to say at his confirmation hearings and his answers on ocean acidification are a total deal-breaker. Ocean acidification is happening. Shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly went bankrupt as a result. Lobstermen in Maine are concerned enough about acidification that they have traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to support important research that will tell them how lobster might be impacted.

As a scientist who has been studying the impacts of ocean acidification for 11 years, I can tell you the truth: ocean acidity has increased 30% since the Industrial Revolution!

This means that shellfish could become scarce on people’s dinner plates—and hard to come by for hungry ocean wildlife.

The EPA’s mission is to protect our health and the environment. But, how can they do that if the head of the agency ignores proven impacts to coastal communities?

Ocean acidification is real! Please join me in taking action today by contacting your Senators.

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State and International Governments, Tribal Nations, Businesses Join Forces to Combat Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 21:29:21 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13504

How often have you gotten information you can really use from a friend, neighbor or family member? The kind that makes you say, “Ohhhhh…. That is SO helpful!” The key to these “aha moments” is often simply being well-connected with others having the same experience.

Yesterday a new initiative launched that will increase the number of aha moments about ways to take action on ocean acidification, raising awareness across the country and around the world of this threat at a time when it is clearly needed. The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, organized by the Pacific Coast Collaborative and supported by Ocean Conservancy, brings together nations, including Tribal nations, states, cities, businesses and organizations from around the world to combat ocean acidification caused by increasing carbon emissions. These are immediate and critical threats to coastal economies and ocean ecosystems, but sometimes it’s not obvious where a specific community can dive in and take direct action.

California Governor Jerry Brown said at yesterday’s launch, “We’re not waiting for anyone—we’ll partner with cities, states, nations, businesses,” to take action on ocean acidification. California is a founding member of the Alliance, along with Oregon, Washington, France, Chile, the Quileute Tribe, Quinault Nation, and Suquamish Tribe, the City of Imperial Beach, California, Cross River State, Nigeria and a number of affiliate members (including Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and many others).

California Governor Jerry Brown announces the launch of the International Ocean Acidification Alliance during a recent press conference in San Diego, California

There’s a place for everyone in the Alliance—groups and governments that have already taken sustained action, and those considering how best to jump in. Alliance members will be able to exchange information on what has worked and what is known. The Alliance will work to ensure that the highest levels of political leadership understand that taking action on ocean acidification means protecting coastal communities and livelihoods. It will also advance the science of ocean acidification, take meaningful actions to reduce its causes, protect the environment and coastal communities from acidification, expand public awareness and build sustained support for taking more action to protect communities, businesses and our coastal way of life.

Conversations late in the day turned to discussing how Alliance members will put together action plans to describe how they intend to make progress. They will work together with other Alliance members to trade ideas and best practices.  The day concluded with a sense of optimism and excitement about the potential that the Alliance represents a way to link the best available science and stories from communities impacted by acidification to the highest levels of political leadership—to ensure that this issue gets the attention and resources it needs.

For more information on the Alliance, check www.oaalliance.org or email Jessie@oaalliance.org.

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Victory for New York Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/08/victory-for-new-york-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/08/victory-for-new-york-waters/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 13:55:59 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13452

This piece was written by Mike Martinsen, Co-founder and Co-president of Montauk Shellfish Company Inc.

For forty years, I have worked as a bayman in New York’s rich waters. You could find me bullraking hard clams, sail dredging oysters, dredging bay scallops and potting lobster. I have earned a living from these waters my whole life. Declines—and the occasional full crash—in  shellfish stocks, however, have forced me to look at other occupations.

Once upon a time, billions upon billions of bivalve shellfish carpeted the bottoms of New York’s bays, harbors, rivers and sounds. But, through unlimited fossil fuel consumption, poor septic planning and a lack of regulation on pesticide and fertilizer purchase and application, we have created a void in the water. The population of bivalve shellfish has declined precipitously.

There is good news on the horizon for me, my fellow baymen and all of you who love our seafood. Last week, New York enacted legislation forming a task force which will identify any sources of acidification in New York waters, and recommend how to address them. Using best available science to fix this problem is written into the law, and this first step to protect the local ocean is a milestone victory in my eyes. This is how smart, comprehensive restoration of our historic oyster reefs, eelgrass beds and coastal ecosystems starts.

Since the beginning of Montauk Shellfish Company Inc., a company I co-founded in 2009, which farms our exclusive Montauk Pearl Oysters, I found that shellfish aquaculture is very important.  Bivalve shellfish in the New York estuaries are probably the most underappreciated living creatures. As filter feeders, they are responsible for maintaining balance with regard to water quality. The beauty of our operation is that each mature oyster will filter approximately 50 gallons of water per day. That means last year our farm filtered approximately 75,000,000 gallons of water each day! Also, the mature oysters had successful reproduction and the spat (tiny little babies) has landed at distant locales helping to promote the wild population growth.

As an aquaculturist, I can take pride in knowing that I am helping to rebuild the wild stock of shellfish in the marine environment. Without those filter feeders, water quality does not stand a chance. Nitrogen has become problematic and algal blooms have wreaked havoc on water quality.

There are things we can do to help mitigate the problems in our local waters. Awareness of how our consumption of fossil fuels and usage of household items can harm the estuary is key. Additionally, promoting shellfish aquaculture and protecting wild stocks will allow balance to be restored. A thriving shellfish stock allows the crucial roles of the natural filtration system, habitat source for juvenile fish and reef-like shoreline structure, to be enjoyed.  All are paramount to the wellness of the estuary.

Monitoring water quality and creating legislation that reduces nitrogen input into the waters will be very important. However there is a very large monster out there that is just beginning to rear its ugly head. Ocean acidification has decimated juvenile shellfish in other places in the world. We know that larval shellfish are strongly affected by ocean acidification and that they cannot form the necessary shell to survive in an acidic environment. Many wonder if this could be as big a factor as nitrogen induced algal blooms in the system collapses we’ve seen.

It’s imperative that we begin to understand the impacts of our current fossil fuel emissions on the ocean. It’s imperative that we take responsibility for the damages that we have caused. And it’s imperative that we begin to act more responsibly toward life as a whole and especially the ocean—the mother of all life, the mother we all share. If the world is your oyster, why not work toward pristine water quality?

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An Ocean of Thanks to YOU http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/an-ocean-of-thanks-to-you/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/an-ocean-of-thanks-to-you/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 16:10:35 +0000 Janis Searles Jones http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13363

The following message is from Janis Searles Jones, President, and Andreas Merkl, CEO.

This has been such a great year for the ocean, and I have you to thank for it. Protecting the ocean is a BIG job, and we can’t do it without people like you.

You’ve put in so much effort all year, that I want to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve accomplished together, celebrate our victories and look forward to the work still to be done.

Thanks to your hard work and support, here’s a taste of the incredible victories we’ve accomplished in 2016:

Hundreds of thousands of volunteers like you, all around the world, took part in our 31st annual International Coastal Cleanup. From the coastlines of the Philippines to the rivers of Pennsylvania, ocean lovers walked tens of thousands of miles and collected millions of pounds of trash, making our coastlines cleaner and healthier. And we have a plan to help cut the amount of plastic entering our ocean in half over the coming decade, so I hope I can continue to count on your support to help make that vision a reality.

Thanks to the support of ocean advocates (like you!), President Obama established two marine monuments: Papahānaumokuākea Monument—the world’s largest marine sanctuary—in Hawaii, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in New England. In just the span of a few weeks, Obama protected more U.S. waters than any other president in history. Together, we can ensure that these areas remain protected from special interests.

In the same year that Shell announced its withdrawal from oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, the Obama administration just announced it will remove the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—as well as the Atlantic Ocean—from risky offshore drilling until 2022. Exclusion of the Arctic in the five-year plan means critical protection for the communities and animals that call the region home. But with oil and gas companies still eyeing the Arctic, we’ll need your continued support to keep this fragile area protected.

After six years of hard work and boots on the ground in the Gulf, BP finally agreed to pay more than $20 billion to the American people to help recover from the impacts caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Now, scientists are working to make sure that money is well spent on restoration and monitoring projects to bring the Gulf back to a healthy state.

Revolutionary new ocean plans in the New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions made history by paving the way for smart ocean management. These plans brought together the needs of many, many stakeholders and will help us best manage our ocean resources for humans and the environment alike. With your help, we’ll work toward implementing these plans and expanding them to other regions.

Together, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fisheries management act that is largely responsible for the strong state of our nation’s fisheries. You’ve helped us keep the Magnuson-Stevens Act strong, and our nation’s fish populations are healthier because of it. I hope I can continue to count on your support to make sure we have healthy fish populations for generations to come.

The United States took critical action to increase protection around the ecologically rich Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. 160,000 square miles of ocean surrounding the islands have been protected as Areas to Be Avoided. Now, the Aleutian Islands, along with the wildlife and peoples who call them home, are safer from shipping accidents.

Ocean acidification is becoming more and more widely recognized as a problem both locally and internationally. We’re now calling on leaders worldwide to protect coastal communities and businesses at risk from acidification. And more than 18,000 people like you have signed Our Ocean Pledge to add your name to the effort—thank you!

All of these amazing ocean victories have one thing in common: YOU. I can’t thank you enough for your dedication and commitment to a healthy ocean. I want to express my sincerest gratitude for your support, and thank you for your commitment to our ocean. While there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, one thing remains true. The ocean is at the heart of all we do, and we need you to be effective ocean advocates. I hope I can continue to count on you as we continue to work tirelessly for our ocean in the coming months and years.

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On Location with Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/21/on-location-with-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/21/on-location-with-ocean-acidification/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 21:42:51 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13377

The film crew records an exciting moment on the Miss Britt II.

Last week, two filmmakers and I went to South Florida to document how ocean acidification can touch communities, like Miami’s, that don’t depend heavily on shellfish harvests. Known for its marine life, beaches, coral reefs and sunny weather, Miami and much of Florida rely on these natural assets to drive the local fishing and tourist industry. Coral reefs are the key link, because they provide habitat for vast numbers of fish—including many of the sport fish that make Florida’s charter fishing industry a must-visit for thousands of tourists each year.

Corals live in shallow and deep waters all the way around Florida—from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea around to the Atlantic coast. They provide nurseries for young fish, where food and protection abound. Shallow-water corals also protect Florida’s coasts from hurricane waves, and the skeletons of coral reefs from thousands of years ago create Florida’s actual bedrock. But ocean acidification doesn’t care—it’s wearing away at coral reefs new and old. Lots of coastal communities have reason for concern.

To tell this story, our team filmed some of the ocean acidification research on corals underway in the Miami area as well as the coastal businesses who depend on the healthy surrounding reefs. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science welcomed us into their research labs, and we went behind the scenes at Captain’s Tavern Restaurant and Seafood Market.

Filmmaker Benj Drummond isn’t interviewing the fish – he’s capturing the “ambience,” or background noise, at the Captain’s Tavern and Seafood Restaurant in Miami, Florida.

We learned how deep fishing runs as an important part of Miami’s identity. I even got to cast a few lines with Miss Britt Sportfishing Charters.

Ryan Ono fishing with Miss Britt Sportfishing. Courtesy of Ryan Ono/Ocean Conservancy.

What we did capture was the story of an ocean-centered community.  So many of the Floridians we interviewed this week described the ocean as a magnet, drawing people to the beach, the fish, the corals and even to research.

Captain Ray Rosher cleans the day’s catch.

These are tight coastal communities with a shared love for the ocean. We’re pleased to report that Florida’s deep community respect for healthy oceans and coral reefs is igniting their interest in taking action on ocean acidification. We look forward to sharing that story with you in our upcoming film!

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Carbon Dioxide Threatens the Ocean’s Speed Bumps http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2016 14:30:50 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13301

You may have heard coral reefs called “the rainforests of the sea,” but did you know they could also be called the “speed bumps of the ocean?” Not only do coral reefs host an estimated 25% of ocean species, but they also slow down and shrink waves that approach land. This keeps hundreds of millions of people safe and dry around the world. At the same time, coral reefs also offer these coastal dwellers many opportunities—for nutrition, their livelihoods and income based on coral reef-area fishing or tourism.

Carbon dioxide, primarily stemming from fossil fuel burning, is poised to change all that. It’s causing the ocean to acidify, which slows the growth and reproduction of coral reefs, and it’s indirectly causing the ocean and atmosphere to heat up. Together, ocean acidification and warming are helping break down the physical structure of coral reefs, taking away their ability to serve as speed bumps that protect coastal communities from tropical storms and tsunamis.

In a new study, my colleagues and I compiled data on human dependence on coral reefs, warming and acidification to see where we are at greatest risk from carbon dioxide-caused changes. Where ocean acidification and warming will worsen most quickly, reefs are expected to suffer most from this one-two punch. That means people in the Coral Triangle countries of Southeast Asia and the Great Barrier Reef region will experience the loss of coral reef benefits most strongly.

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough research and monitoring in these regions at greatest risk. The South Pacific’s coral reefs border many isolated islands and atolls, so studying conditions across the region is challenging. But investing there is worthwhile—increased research and monitoring in the South Pacific could uncover places where refuges exist for corals from the steady increase of acidification and heat. Naturally occurring safe spaces could provide places for corals to hide, and from there they could send out larvae to “reseed” the oceans when conditions improve in the future.

Many of the coastal communities who face greatest risk from losing coral reefs are not the ones who contribute most to worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. It’s inspiring that the ocean is now being considered in global negotiations about emissions—recall that last year’s Paris Agreement specifically names “the ocean,” a first for a global agreement. Tomorrow, at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, where international leaders are meeting to continue international progress on climate, the Ocean and Climate Forum official side event will focus on how we can integrate ocean and climate action into international agreements.

One such small way to encourage action on ocean acidification is the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. Nations who join the Alliance are pledging to begin or continue efforts to address ocean acidification, including advancing scientific understanding and expanding public awareness, and to share their knowledge with other members of the Alliance as the international community searches for solutions. Speed on this front will be good news for the “speed bumps of the sea.”

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