House passes bill targeting problem of ocean acidity, which harms marine life

A bill championed by Rep. Brian Baird that would begin to address the growing threat of ocean acidification passed the House on Wednesday on a voice vote. It heads to the Senate.

The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act would increase research and monitoring of the acidity of the world’s oceans, a phenomenon that threatens the survival of coral reefs and the marine food chain.

“Ocean acidification” refers to the process by which ocean water becomes corrosive as it absorbs high levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The law would charge the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology with overseeing the planning, establishment, and coordination of a plan to improve the understanding of ocean acidification and its impact on marine ecosystems, communities and industries.

“From the people who work in the seafood and shellfish industry to those who enjoy our maritime resources, the consequences of an increasingly acidic ocean to the people of Washington could be nothing short of catastrophic,” said Baird in a statement after the vote. “I refuse to pass this problem off to future generations; we must work to solve it today.”

Baird chairs a House Science and Technology subcommittee that oversees federal research grants.

A recently published study funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration revealed that the scope of the problem facing North America’s West Coast is far greater than scientists had imagined.

Researchers using the Wecoma, an Oregon State University Research vessel owned by the National Science Foundation, collected water samples at several locations off the Northwest coast. They found high levels of acidified water within 20 miles of the coastline. That water, collected from upwelling areas, is believed to have been exposed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere 50 years ago.

“Even if we somehow got our atmospheric CO2 levels to immediately quit increasing, we’d still have increasingly acidified ocean water to contend with over the next 50 years,” said Burke Hales, an associate professor in the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Scientists say that could spell disaster for marine ecosystems from Mexico to Canada, because if the foundation of the ocean food chain, including coral and plankton, is disrupted, it could affect every link in the food chain, from shellfish to marine mammals to commercial fisheries.

Kathie Durbin, The Columbian, 10 July 2008. Article.

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