Seattle–one of my favorite cities. I first came here in 2006 and fell in love with Puget Sound, the strong smell of coffee and the surprisingly steep downtown streets that make my morning runs more challenging than I’m used to, given the gentle slopes of DC.
Today I’ve just attended an event at the beautiful Seattle Aquarium to hear Washington Governor Christine Gregoire announce the first ever state response to ocean acidification — a little-known threat that hit the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry like an invisible ton of bricks back in 2007 and now has top billing in Washington and across the country today.
Ocean acidification is what happens when significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ocean. A chemical reaction is occurring in our oceans right now as our carbon emissions increase. Because of the amount of carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean, its pH is lowered, turning it more acidic. The ocean is 25% more acidic than it was before the Industrial Revolution.
Like many of you, many of Ocean Conservancy’s staff have lived through hurricanes and other natural disasters. We know how much damage hurricanes can cause, and our hearts go out to those of you affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy, which pounded the East Coast on Monday, was a wholly different storm. Our immediate concerns are always with those in the path of such devastating storms, especially those on the New Jersey coast and New York where the damage was especially acute. We send our gratitude to NOAA for the warnings and the time to prepare and to the first responders, who are not only saving lives but are leading communities’ recovery efforts.
As we shift from rescue to recovery, we are confronting a cleanup and rebuilding effort with an extraordinary price tag and an unforeseeable timeline. And while we can’t control such a massive storm, we can help strengthen our nation’s best defense against this force of nature.
Sandy, which packed 90 mile-per-hour winds and dumped 12 inches of rain and snow across states ranging from New Jersey to Kentucky, was declared to be something other than a hurricane. It was, forecasters said, a post-tropical storm that combined with other weather systems to stretch 1,000 miles wide and create storm surges up to 11 feet.
As we catch up on our work and get back up to speed, here are some takes on Sandy from around the web that we’re finding particularly insightful. If you have stories to share, please leave them in the comments below:
Bethany Kraft works with volunteers to build an oyster reef in Alabama. Photo by: John Wathen
I keep a small pile of fused oyster shells on my fireplace mantel. They are bleached from hundreds (thousands?) of years of sun exposure, chipped from their brackish home by hands that have since turned to dust. I imagine the way the oysters tasted to the man or woman who walked the same shores I walk now. I wonder if in eating the soft briny flesh of the oyster, they had in mind some approximation of the feeling Ernest Hemingway would describe in A Moveable Feast centuries and worlds away from the ones who used to call the Gulf Coast home:
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Oysters aren’t unique to the Gulf, of course. They can be found the world over, though not nearly to the extent of 1,000 or even 100 years ago. Though they resemble breathing rocks more than crabs or mullet, they are surprisingly sensitive. Large fluctuations in salinity can wreak havoc — too much freshwater kills the oysters, while a high level of salinity encourages the proliferation of the predator oyster drill in places like the Gulf Coast. Issues like ocean acidification that weren’t on the radar 100 years ago now require our thoughtful consideration if we are to preserve this ancient food source. Already scientists have linked changes in ocean chemistry to deaths of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest. For critters whose only modes of transport are the lazy drift of currents in the larval stage and the wrenching upward motion out of the sea and onto our dinner plate, every change in the status quo, from oil spills to floods to ocean acidification, is cause for concern.
Oysters are living sculptures of sustenance and shelter and construction material. They also filter pollution from the water, and their reefs help break down wave energy and protect shorelines. As far back as human memory can reach, they’ve always been here, welcoming any human or animal with a hunger and the right tools to pry open the shell to partake, tying us to those who came to the shore before us to enjoy its bounty. It’s up to us to protect and preserve the reefs we rely on so that we aren’t the last generations to benefit from all the oyster provides.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.
Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.
The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.
To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »
Donning our snorkel gear, my son and I entered the tranquil bay. We’d been looking forward to spring break in Baja Mexico and had read about this spot in the guide book. But we were soon disappointed; there were few fish to see and most of the coral was damaged or dead. The unsuspecting tourist might not notice but as a trained marine biologist I know what a healthy reef looks like. This wasn’t it.
Coral reefs are under assault. Overfishing and coastal development are partly to blame, but ocean acidification is an emerging threat to corals and a host of other species that rely on calcium carbonate for their shells. As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, it dissolves in the ocean and it is changing the very chemistry of the sea.