Acid oceans can be fought at home

For coastal communities in the United States, the path to confronting souring seas can likely be found close to home in their very own backyards.

In fact, according to a recent study co-authored by several current and former Stanford researchers, there are several local and regional actions—many of which are not too costly—that can be taken to accelerate the adaptation to ocean acidification.

“We think of ocean acidification as being controlled by carbon dioxide, and it is, but there are a lot of different things humans do that affect the chemical equilibrium of the carbonate system in the coastal zone,” said Aaron Strong, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources.

He pointed to river discharge, local-scale upwelling, and nutrient and stormwater pollution as some of the major factors behind ocean water’s increasingly unbalanced acidity levels.

“Ocean acidification should become a part of the conversation among quality managers, stormwater managers, agricultural managers … and it tends not to be in that space,” Strong added.

To fill in the gaps, the study outlines current local and regional ocean-acidification management efforts and recommends nine other “opportunities for action” that state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities and industry can implement for about $1 million a pop.

“An international agreement on climate change to reduce CO2 is not the only solution,” he said.

Using what’s out there
The report points out that there are a lot of ways for state and national decisionmakers to use existing laws, policies and research programs when confronting ocean acidification.

For example, the study states, authorities could integrate the effects of ocean acidification into current and future climate change programs and state-level coastal programs under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972; make it a focus within federal programs, such as the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Plan; and further develop a coordinated regional network of monitoring stations to map the vulnerability of coastal areas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program has established a successful monitoring program at the regional scale. A bit over one month ago, it made a startling discovery off the country’s West Coast—proof that ocean acidity is indeed having a negative impact on marine species (ClimateWire, May 1).

“I was surprised to see this huge spatial range of the region where, for 1,000 miles, we saw so many pteropods [a type of sea snail] being dissolved,” said NOAA scientist Nina Bednaršek.

But one of the least expensive—and perhaps most effective—options out there, according to the authors, is public education programs.

“We should integrate ocean acidification into K-12 science education,” Strong said. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”

Making cross-border waves
Some states and regions, however, are leading the charge.

Launched in 2011 by former Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), the Blue Ribbon Panel brought together policymakers, scientists, public opinion leaders and industry representatives to discuss the effects of ocean acidification on the state’s shellfish resources.

It was a groundbreaking success that spurred similar efforts in California, Oregon and Maine, Strong said.

The panel also inspired the creation of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, a regional initiative composed of scientists from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia that aims to identify coastwide management approaches and provide an example for other regions striving to combat the effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia.

“While regional initiatives can’t hope to replace international efforts, we’re worried about what ocean acidification is going to do to marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them,” said Michael “Moose” O’Donnell, a staff scientist on the panel and senior scientist at the California Ocean Science Trust.

“The Pacific Northwest, West Coast states and Maine are at the forefront of this, but ocean acidification is also a problem in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico, and we hope these actions will provide a template and framework for more broad and comprehensive action,” Strong said.

Elspeth Dehnert & ClimateWire, Scientific American, 5 June 2014. Article.

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