Ocean Currents » ocean acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:32:31 +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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Momentum Builds for Ocean Change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/10/momentum-builds-for-ocean-change/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/10/momentum-builds-for-ocean-change/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 19:00:48 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9815

There’s been a recent spate of good news about people dealing with the global problem of ocean acidification at the local level.  Over the past month, the Maryland Ocean Acidification Task Force and Maine Ocean Acidification Commission have reported on what ocean acidification means for their states, and what each state can do to protect its local ocean.  These are the first comprehensive state reports on the east coast to put forth suggested actions addressing acidification.

Both commissions included scientists, fishermen, shellfish farmers, state agencies, elected representatives and community groups who are especially concerned about their shellfish farms and wild fisheries, especially blue crabs and American lobsters. I attended the Maryland Task Force meetings too.

During the meetings over the summer, we heard of shellfish farmers in Maryland seeing lower baby oyster production levels.  Even though the cause has remained a mystery, no one could rule out ocean acidification. This lower amount of oyster seed still remains unexplained, but everyone agreed that the marine resources and coastal communities of the state are too important to be left in such uncertain conditions.  In fact, the Maryland report includes recommendations for increasing ocean acidification research and monitoring so the state can understand just what is happening.

I’ve met with a few of the Maine commissioners, and they’re trying to reduce the uncertainty too.  This week the commission co-chair, Representative Mick Devin, emphasized why more information is needed: “It isn’t just valuable shellfisheries that are at risk, but other parts of our economy like tourism. No one visits the Maine coast looking for a chicken sandwich. Let’s make sure visitors can have a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, a bucket of steamers or a platter of Damariscotta River oysters on the half shell when they come to Maine.”  Among other recommendations, the state commission emphasized the need for more research and monitoring of acidification, but this requires funding, science and collaboration with others.

While these individual states fight for their local economies and coastal cultures, they recognize that this issue is not simply a problem for a few scattered states or a region, but rather a growing concern for the whole US, and more help is needed.

I am also glad to report that the federal government is listening to these states, industry, scientists and others and has responded by recently proposing an increase in ocean acidification research and monitoring funding from $8.5 million to $30 million through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This additional funding would provide for water quality sensors, research vessel operations, scientific experiments, and allow for greater collaboration between the states, federal government, and international efforts to address acidification.

This added federal attention and increased concern is great news for Maryland, Maine, and the people who depend on the sea for their livelihoods.  By increasing the knowledge of what acidification does to marine life, tracking where and when it occurs, and working with others to reduce carbon pollution and runoff pollution, these states will limit future damages to important ecosystems, economies, and cultures.  We at Ocean Conservancy look forward to hearing more from these states and regions (and beyond!), because as we all know, the ocean doesn’t stop at state borders, and ocean acidification has the potential to reach all our shores.


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Tasting Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/15/tasting-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/15/tasting-ocean-acidification/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 22:14:58 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9695

Photo: Russell Illig

Pink shrimp raised in tanks that simulate the more acidic ocean expected in the future just don’t taste right, according to a recently published research paper from Sweden.  For the first time, a scientific study has looked at the effects of future ocean conditions on the taste of seafood.

Teaming up with a professional chef, the researchers cooked and served local shrimp that had been raised for three weeks in high carbon dioxide conditions alongside shrimp raised in regular conditions. Volunteer taste testers then tried both kinds of shrimp and scored them on appearance, texture, and taste.

Ocean acidification didn’t affect texture at all, but it significantly hurt the shrimps’ appearance and taste scores.  Shrimp raised under regular conditions were more than three times as likely to be rated the best shrimp on the plate, and the shrimp raised with high carbon dioxide levels were about three times as likely to be rated the worst on the plate.

“Ocean acidification is often referred as the silent storm because you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you can’t smell it, but our research suggests that you just may be able to taste it”, says lead author Dr. Sam Dupont, in a statement from the University of Gothenburg, where the research was performed.

The researchers did not study exactly why the flavor and appearance changed, but it’s well known that stressed animals produce poorer quality meat. In fact, fish under stress can have a metallic aftertaste. The stress of ocean acidification might have changed these shrimps’ metabolism enough that they didn’t store fats and sugars normally, leading to these changes.

These intriguing results suggest that there could be many hidden ways that global change will affect the things we care about. It’s not just about shellfish growing slower or sharks not smelling their dinner. It’s also about how our dinner might taste!


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Ocean Voices Heard in Funding Bill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:10:26 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9622

Photo: Cate Brown

Congress is often accused of not listening to the needs of the people.  But the people who depend on a healthy ocean made sure their voices were heard this year, and based on the recent funding deal, Congress listened.

Buried in the massive, must-pass funding bill for federal programs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) $5.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 includes an overall increase of $126 million with key investments in critical ocean programs that matter to people and communities. Congress delayed the decision for over two months as they hashed out a compromise between very different ocean funding levels in the House and Senate, but the deal struck this week puts the ocean on a strong footing for next year:

  • The National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service will each receive around $10 million in additional funding this year – modest but important increases that will help people who depend on data and monitoring from these departments.
  • Regional Coastal Resilience Grants will be funded at $5 million – these grants will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts and economic shifts.
  • Ocean acidification research will receive $8.5 million, a $2.5 million increase over the current funding level – these dollars will support efforts to improve our understanding of how acidification impacts businesses and ecosystems, as well as development of tools to mitigate those impacts.
  • All attempts to undermine the National Ocean Policy (NOP) through harmful policy riders were removed from the final bill, ensuring that coordinated smart ocean planning processes  throughout the country can move forward.

These investments show the impact of vocal ocean advocates on Capitol Hill. Over 140 people who care about the ocean or depend on it for their livelihoods signed letters of support or came to Washington, DC to meet with their Members of Congress on the need to better understand and prepare for ocean acidification. Over 280 ocean users and advocates argued for the benefits of smart ocean planning, successfully convincing Congress to remove harmful attacks from the bill and to fund key grant programs that support work around the country.

Ocean advocates include aquaculture farmers, seafood distributors, fishermen, renewable energy developers, and shippers, as well as citizens who value ocean conservation, which includes religious groups, recreational users, local elected representatives, and tribal officials. What they all have in common is the understanding that without smart ocean planning efforts, research dollars to solve challenges like ocean acidification, and robust ocean conservation programs, the ocean resources and environment sustaining coastal communities and economies cannot thrive.

We also saw more ocean champions within Congress. For example, nineteen Senators signed a letter supporting coastal resilience programs, and 86 Representatives demanded the removal of all harmful NOP attacks from the final appropriations bill – that’s one out of five Members of Congress standing up for the ocean! These Members of Congress, from Hawaii to Maine, represent millions of constituents that benefit from and care about our ocean.

There is more work to be done – just 15% of NOAA’s funding increase for this fiscal year will go to the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These modest increases are meaningful, but investments in NOAA need to be more balanced across the agency’s many important missions, from predicting the weather to creating resilient coastal communities.


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California’s MPAs: A Pilgrimage to Where it All Began http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:00:15 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9597

At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) also served as inspiration for California’s process to establish a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), an effort I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working to support. So when I was invited to speak about these areas at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible.  And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.

Because the Great Barrier Reef is a single, complicated structure with trillions of delicately balanced living and breathing components, it is also ground zero for our increasingly warm and more acidic ocean. What happens to the sensitive, exposed habitats of the Great Barrier Reef in the next couple of years may be a harbinger of what’s to come in the rest of our ocean in the coming decades.

Heron Island, where I spent much of my time, is a coral island that sits directly on the Reef, just north of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, where the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal is located. The Island is home to nesting green sea turtles, giant shovel-nosed rays, and a 400-pound Queensland grouper named “Gus.” It’s also home to the University of Queensland Research Station, where scientists are studying the effects of carbon emissions and warmer temperatures on local corals.

These scientists know that the fossil fuels we are burning—like coal—don’t just go into the atmosphere; they are also absorbed by the ocean. When this carbon pollution is absorbed by seawater, it turns it more acidic. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic today than it was 150 years ago. And increasingly acidic water is bad news for animals that build shells, including corals.

Warming waters, also as a result of carbon dioxide, mean more bleaching and more algae and diseases that corals have to recover from. Scientists in the Great Barrier Reef are looking at what this all will mean for the Reef and for the ocean as a whole.

While the situation is very concerning, it’s my hope that our global community will be able to significantly reduce carbon pollution and ocean acidification to keep our ocean—and the wonders that reside within it— healthy.

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Why I Haven’t Given Up On the Ocean, and Why You Shouldn’t Either http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/26/why-i-havent-given-up-on-the-ocean-and-why-you-shouldnt-either/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/26/why-i-havent-given-up-on-the-ocean-and-why-you-shouldnt-either/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:09:34 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9549

Photo: Cate Brown

It’s been a depressing few weeks in ocean news. I’ve seen lots of downer headlines lately about new studies saying we’ve “screwed the oceans” with carbon dioxide pollution, left a dirty “bathtub ring of oil” in the Gulf of Mexico, and dumped so much plastic in the ocean that whales are choking to death. Plus I can’t escape the bickering in every media outlet about whether or not the carbon emissions agreement between U.S. and China means anything. You’re probably exhausted by it all too. But before you totally tune out, thinking that the ocean’s problems are just TOO big, let me tell you why I haven’t given up on the ocean.

As you know, I’m a scientist, so I like to think first about how science will help us out of this fix. My colleagues and I have been working on ways to break down what puts individual communities at risk for ocean acidification. We did this recently for Alaska, and now we’re finishing a similar study for the whole United States. Turns out, it’s not just oceanography that puts human communities at risk – it’s also the ways humans depend on marine harvests, and the ways communities are put together socially. This is great news for community leaders, who can encourage future regional development that will decrease these risks. The scientists who reported on the Gulf’s oily bathtub ring also point out that their research sheds light on how oil moves and breaks down in deep water, which offers ways to “avoid and mitigate oil spills in the future.” This is great news for accident response planners and restoration experts. And finally, studies of how marine animals eat plastic debris does shed light on how these animals hunt and behave (a tiny silver lining in a very, very, dark cloud), but most importantly, these studies have grabbed everyone’s attention. People around the world are appalled by this. And as a result, there is a growing movement to address ocean trash that is co-led by plastics manufacturers.

By breaking problems down into smaller-scale causes and effects, ocean research continues to find ways we can intervene and avoid a future without wildlife, clean water, or clear air. Even for big, bad problems like carbon dioxide and plastics pollution, we make progress step by step.

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Bicoastal State Action on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/11/bicoastal-state-action-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/11/bicoastal-state-action-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:24:07 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9486

By Guest Authors Mick Devin, Jay Manning and Eric Schwaab

Last week at the Restore America’s Estuaries Summit hundreds of people gathered near the nation’s capital to talk about coastal restoration and management practices. We were invited to lend a voice to a significant new coastal threat – - ocean acidification.  Acidification threats have been recognized by coastal communities and businesses as not just a concern for restoration practitioners, but to the fishing and aquaculture businesses that support the economies of many coastal communities. Ocean acidification threatens fish and wildlife around the world, but also jobs and livelihoods in coastal communities throughout the US.

The most well-known example of acidification impacting coastal businesses and communities happened in 2007 and 2008 with the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest. Hatchery owners, working closely with scientists, found that acidification was killing billions of baby oysters. As a result, shellfish farms and hatcheries along the West Coast faced serious financial losses. These businesses have been able to take steps to respond to the continued threat of acidification, and bounce back.  But there are many more businesses and sectors around the US, and in our states in particular, that are at risk due to acidification.

Up to a third of all carbon pollution in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing a chemical change in seawater that turns it more acidic.  This makes it harder for shell-building animals to survive.

Based on community concerns, our states have taken recent action to better understand and respond to ocean acidification.  As chairs of the Maine, Washington and Maryland state panels on ocean acidification, we spoke alongside NOAA Ocean Acidification Program Director Libby Jewett about better monitoring, enhanced coordination, mitigation opportunities and other specific actions planned or underway.

Our three states contribute billions of dollars to the national economy through our coastal communities and fisheries, yet our iconic lobster, blue crab and shellfish fisheries may be vulnerable to acidification impacts.  We are taking steps now to respond and are committed to doing even more. Washington has already established research and policy centers to work on this issue, and Maine and Maryland are issuing reports for legislative actions in the coming months.

It was great to share experiences and discuss how to collaborate and tackle a problem that is inherently bigger than all of our states combined.  However, we are encouraged and hopeful that with each state that takes action, we will find ways to roll back acidification and its negative impacts.

About the Guest Authors:

Mick Devin is co-chair of the Maine Commission on Ocean Acidification, and was recently re-elected as a member of the Maine State House of Representatives, representing Maine’s 51st District.

Jay Manning is the former Chief of Staff to Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and Co-chair of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.  He is currently an environmental lawyer and consultant based out of Olympia, Washington.

Eric Schwaab is the chair of the Maryland Ocean Acidification Task Force, and former US Department of Commerce acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA.  He is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

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