Seabird populations shift with changing climate

Scientists of all disciplines gathered last week in Anchorage to discuss a wide and varied array of topics at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium.

Among the biologists, geologists and oceanographers, was Adrian Gall, a research biologist with Alaska Biological Research in Fairbanks, who addressed the crowd with a talk on the shifting seabird community around the Chukchi Sea.

There has been a dramatic swing, not in the numbers, but in the kinds of seabirds in the region over the past four decades. And the reason, like many other dramatic changes happening in the Arctic, is a direct result of retreating sea ice. (…)

Lauren Frisch, a master’s student working toward her degree in environmental policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, presented last week on the public’s perception of ocean acidification.

And the results of her poll were not terribly surprising.

Ocean acidification is an ongoing decrease in ocean PH, and the more corrosive the water gets the more impact it will have on marine life, especially shelled-creatures like crabs.

Beginning in June, Frisch sent out surveys to 2,000 Alaskans, selected at random, to see who was concerned about this subject.

“A lot of researchers are looking at how different and variable levels of ocean acidification will impact different species that are important to Alaska’s fishing industry,” Frisch said. “I was more focused on looking at if individuals in Alaska are aware of these unique risks and what their understanding of ocean acidification is.”

The survey questions prompted residents to offer their understanding of what ocean acidification means and also how they think it will affect fisheries.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase the understanding of ocean acidification in Alaska,” she said. “And to increase the knowledge of Alaskans at risk.”

Increasing the knowledge helps those who need to respond, she added.

Frisch reported that most people surveyed had heard of ocean acidification, which surprised her a little because it’s a relatively new issue.

A quarter of respondents had not heard of it at all, while just 4 percent reported that they had a firm grasp on the matter.

“We have a long way to go to make sure we have more people in that confident category, but at least we’re on the right track. We want to make sure that people understand that link between shell-building organisms and ocean acidification so that communities that are reliant on crab fisheries, for example, have the knowledge and ability to diversify in the future if they need to.”

The survey also showed that coastal residents living within two to five miles from the ocean had more understanding of those living in Anchorage and Fairbanks, while Democrats tended to be more concerned about acidification than Republicans.

Jillian Rogers, The Bristol Bay Times, 31 January 2014. Article.

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