Clallam County board briefed on ocean acidification

PORT ANGELES — It would take a global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions to reverse the effects of ocean acidification, members of the Clallam County Marine Resources Committee told county commissioners Monday.

But there are ways to help at the local and state level — pollution control, a reduction in stormwater runoff and investment in more water monitors — to protect shellfish and other species from potentially lethal changes in ocean chemistry, committee members Ed Bowlby and Andrew Shogren said.

“We have to tackle the global aspect, but when possible, when appropriate, to try to tackle it locally to mitigate this onslaught that we can’t do anything about,” Bowlby said.

“That’s a different aspect. That’s going to keep occurring.

“But we can start trying to minimize local contributions within the watershed, the stormwater runoffs, that can cause local ocean acidification.”

After researchers linked significant oyster production failures to acidification, Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed a panel of scientists and lawmakers to study acidification in the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The panel released its recommendations in a Nov. 27 report, which contained several “key early actions.”

The recommended actions include:

— Reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

– Reduce land-based contributions to acidity, namely pollution.

– Adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification by developing vegetation systems in upland habitats and monitoring water at hatcheries.

– Invest in the state’s ability to monitor and investigate the effects of corrosive seawater.

– Inform and educate stakeholders, decision makers and the public about acidification.

– Maintain a sustainable and coordinated focus on ocean acidification.

Gregoire signed an executive order urging lawmakers to follow the panel’s recommendations. She put $3.3 million in her budget proposal to crweate an acidification center at the University of Washington.

Bowlby described ocean acidification as “the lesser known cousin of climate change.”

“That’s the main driver for ocean acidification, atmospheric emissions [of carbon dioxide],” he said.

“There’s not much we can do on a global picture there, but there are local solutions.”

Seawater exposed to carbon dioxide can linger in the bottom of the ocean for as long as 50 years before it is upwelled in the Eastern Pacific, the report said.

It has the potential to affect more than 30 percent of all marine species in the Puget Sound, including oysters, clams, mussels, scallops and crab.

Most of the affected species depend on calcium carbonate to make their shells. Certain types of seaweed is also susceptible to acidification, the report said.

“It has major implications, not just for shellfish, but the food chain,” said Bowlby, whose day job is research coordinator for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Port Angeles.

“This is an issue. It’s not theoretical. It is happening, and we have to address it. We all have to tackle it together.”

County Commissioner Mike Doherty asked the Marine Resources Committee to examine the local impacts of ocean acidification.

“It would be an interest to me if somebody could accumulate what’s the Clallam County economic impact,” Doherty said.

“I would be up for another briefing, maybe later, to get more specific impacts on Clallam County.”

Rob Ollikainen, Peninsula Daily News, 10 December 2012. Article.

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