Ocean Currents » ocean acidification 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 Congress Wants More Attention on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/01/congress-wants-more-attention-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/01/congress-wants-more-attention-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 00:57:41 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10286

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, MassMatt

Last month, federal lawmakers signaled their concern for healthy coastal communities when six House Republicans and Democrats introduced a bill directing the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess the vulnerabilities of these communities to ocean acidification. The bill, entitled the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2553) takes an important step in helping these impacted individuals understand what acidification means for them specifically, and what can be done to protect themselves and their marine resources such as fisheries.

Although ocean acidification has generally been associated with oyster, mussel and clam die-offs, coral reefs are also threatened, and scientists are increasingly finding that important fisheries such as king and Dungeness crab, and summer flounder, won’t fare well in an increasingly acidic world. Given the millions of livelihoods at stake, we applaud Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Vern Buchanan (FL-16) who introduced the bill along with their cosponsors for using foresight in trying to get ahead of this issue, and protect the jobs and way of life for thousands of individuals and families.

No one wants to be caught unprepared for acidification as the Pacific Northwest was when it dealt with the oyster baby die-offs of 2005-2009 in its hatcheries.  Right now important fisheries such as the salmon, Dungeness crab and lobster fisheries in the northwest and northeast parts of the country are in that particular proverbial boat, as they have little to no science on the impacts of acidification.

Funding this research and science to support local decision-makers with information is also critical in fighting ocean acidification, and in fact, Congress is deciding how much to spend on acidification research and monitoring right now.  For context, last year, Congress funded the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) at $8.5 million for the year.  So far this year, it looks like this figure will hold steady thanks to Senator Maria Cantwell (WA), and Representatives Bonamici (OR-1st) and Heck (WA-10th) who led letters to their colleagues on the committees who make these funding decisions in support of the NOAA OAP budget which had a total of 64 members of Congress sign on in bipartisan support.

With these proposed assessments to inform communities from H.R. 2553, and the consistent support of federal funding, we hope our communities, coasts and marine industries can defend themselves from ocean acidification and continue thriving into the future.


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Making Even Better Decisions About Sea Scallop Harvests http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/07/making-even-better-decisions-about-sea-scallop-harvests/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/07/making-even-better-decisions-about-sea-scallop-harvests/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 12:31:39 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10181

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, flippy whale, sai kung

How do you like to make big, complicated decisions? I like to write lists of pros and cons associated with the choice I’m leaning towards. That’s served me well for changing jobs, selling houses and more.

But for complex systems, like fisheries, simply comparing pros and cons of one choice isn’t enough. There are many moving parts in a fishery, and they are interconnected. For example, when fishermen harvest sea scallops, they reduce the overall number of scallops in an area, and change the age and size distribution of individual scallops. At the same time, factors like rising water temperature, availability of food, or quality of habitat can also affect scallop populations, and external factors like the price of scallops or gasoline can influence the intensity of fishing effort. So, changes in a fishery often lead to outcomes that don’t necessarily generate neat bullets you can compare on a balance sheet.

It’s especially challenging to plan for both short and long term changes in a fishery. Most fisheries are managed to accommodate short-term changes that last a few years, like natural fluctuations in population size. But fisheries management today generally doesn’t also consider long-term changes spanning many decades, like warming and ocean acidification, even though we know those changes are gradually tilting the playing field for many marine species.

My colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Marine Fisheries Service and I hope to make short- and long-term fisheries planning a bit easier to combine. We’ve just published a computer model that lets us explore the effects of different environmental and economic futures, and compare the results, side by side, for a single fishery. It details alternate universes for the fishery similar to the way that George Bailey saw different futures for his town in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

We focused on the U.S. sea scallop fishery, which is one of the best managed fisheries in the country. In 2013, it generated $467 million in dockside revenues and has fully rebounded from being overfished in the 1990s. Because there is a trove of stock assessment data about sea scallops and the fishery isn’t in crisis, it’s a good time to look ahead. Our model simulates how environmental conditions influence sea scallop populations, and how harvesting and things like scallop market prices affect the whole system. We can simulate long-term environmental changes including warming and ocean acidification at the same time as we can simulate year-to-year scallop fishery characteristics.

The point of putting this model together is to provide a tool that anyone can use to play out different futures for the sea scallop fishery and that layers short- and long-term changes. Ultimately we’ll build an interactive model website where anyone who’s interested in the scallop fishery can compare the possible effects of different choices and changes on the sea scallop fishery. We hope that this will further inform discussions among harvesters, fishery managers and scientists about how best to manage the fishery in a way that will ensure harvests now and later. We also hope that this type of model can be used for other fisheries in the future, too.  Decision making is never easy, but this model will help us lay out our options a bit more clearly.

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Lessons From History on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/29/lessons-from-history-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/29/lessons-from-history-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 16:17:08 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10165 fish and corals in the Florida Keys

Photo: NOAA

Part of my job involves fielding worried emails and phone calls about alarming-sounding science news, especially when it relates to ocean acidification. Recently a study in Science made a big splash, generating headlines like “Ocean acidification caused the largest mass extinction ever” and “Acidic oceans helped fuel extinction.” And those are some of the calmer headlines. Naturally, people are saying, “This is scary stuff! Are we going to see the same thing?” Let’s take a look.

When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.

In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.

This science study offers insight into what extreme, unchecked ocean acidification could look like. The rate of carbon dioxide release to the atmosphere that drove acidification during the P-T boundary was about the same as today’s. However, the P-T boundary isn’t exactly like today. The total amount of carbon released then was nearly five times as large as ALL the fossil fuel reserves on Earth. Also, ocean pH dropped by up to 0.7 pH units during the P-T boundary, but ocean pH has only decreased today by 0.1 units, with another 0.2-0.3 units expected by 2100. Most scientists agree we probably won’t see wholesale extinction of shelled animals and corals from today’s ocean acidification. But if we even just put a dent in marine populations over mere moments of the Earth’s life, that’s pretty scary. To the Earth, the 200 years we’ve been emitting carbon dioxide is like two minutes of a 100-year-old’s life.  We’ve made huge changes to the ocean in a small amount of time.

What are our options? To avoid repeating geological history, mankind needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions swiftly and decisively. Nations are pledging to do this in preparation for this year’s United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 21) meeting. Researchers are exploring how to do this in ways that will lead to overall socioeconomic benefits in the short and long terms. Some programs, like the long-running U.S. Energy Star program, have already shown that citizens can benefit financially while saving energy. Meanwhile, local and regional governments are seeking ways to cut their own carbon dioxide emissions. Maine and Maryland have recently called for reductions in carbon emissions as one of several steps they’ll take to combat ocean acidification, echoing Washington State’s resolve. West Coast states and British Columbia are working on this collaboratively. At the same time, businesspeople are finding ways to adapt to, or stave off, some of the worst effects of ocean acidification. But since humans depend on marine life of all types, calcified or not, protecting creatures in the ocean is actually in our own self-interest. Formally committing to cut our carbon dioxide emissions, which every country can do at this year’s COP 21 meeting, is a big but needed next step to protect the oceans and ourselves.

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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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