PNCIMA Forum on Pacific Ocean to address uncertain future

On March 26, a two-day conference will get underway in Richmond with the goal of mapping a future for much of British Columbia’s coastal waters.

Called the PNCIMA Forum (for Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area), the event will see 300 relevant stakeholders meet to begin to figure out how to manage B.C.’s waters in a time of both increasing human activity and environmental challenges.

Kurt Grimm, associate professor of earth and ocean sciences at UBC, warned that oceans’ surface waters are becoming more acidic, to a point where marine life could be in danger.

Simply put, he explained, oceans naturally act as a sponge for atmospheric CO2. But industrialized humanity is now spewing CO2 into the atmosphere at such an “unprecedented” rate that the oceans are sponging up the greenhouse gas faster than waters’ chemistry can reach equilibrium. The result is a “large perturbation” characterized by surface waters becoming more acidic.

“And when you have a large perturbation in an ecosystem, the ultimate outcomes are very difficult, if not impossible to forecast,” Grimm added. “It’s like rolling the dice.”

Ocean acidification has been tied to the expansion of so-called dead zones, where a lack of oxygen makes certain costal areas uninhabitable for higher life forms. A team of Danish researchers recently reported that if climate change continues unchecked, a dramatic expansion of dead zones could result.

Wareham said that the Suzuki Foundation is well aware of rising acidic levels and warned that the impact on ecosystems could be “huge”. He claimed that scientists are already observing pH levels lower than what some marine organisms require to survive.

Noting a direct relevance to human life, Wareham added: “Plankton in the ocean is the largest source of oxygen in our atmosphere, so if, through these events, we reduce the productivity of plankton or the ability of plankton to survive in the ocean, the house of cards starts to fall down.”

Although acidification is not officially on the agenda for the PNCIMA Forum, Wareham said that he expects the issue to be raised and used as a rationale for a more precautionary approach and a push for greater conservation efforts.

“If there is downward pressure on fish populations, you can’t just go out there and fish the same quota level for the next 20 years,” he argued. “You’re going to have to adjust that or maybe even stop fishing some years.”

According to Wareham, what B.C.’s oceans need is a greater level of scientific observation that will prevent mistakes from being made.

Travis Lupick,, 24 March 2009. Full article.

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