Huffman warns of economic, ecological damage tied to ocean acidification (text & video)

BODEGA BAY – Job losses, destruction of habitat and the collapse of the shellfish industry is in the offing if steps are not taken to cope with ocean acidification brought about by pollution in the atmosphere, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman warned Monday.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, visited the University of California at Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory to discuss the issue with researchers, business owners and fishermen.

“Ocean acidification will have very far-reaching effects on our food web, our economy and our ecosystem.” Huffman said. “We are causing this. Let’s be honest. It’s human activity.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the world’s oceans could become 150 times more acidic by the end of this century.

“An entire ocean ecosystem depends on the delicate pH balance to exist to make the calcium D to form the shells that are necessary for shellfish, and to have plankton that is the beginning of the food web,” Huffman said. “The change in pH is occurring at an alarming rate. The science tells us that.”

The congressman supports plans to expand the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off Marin’s coast as well as the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act to help protect waters. The just-introduced bill allows federal agencies to use existing funds to design prize competitions to increase the ability to manage, research and monitor ocean acidification and its impacts, which are already being seen.

NOAA scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found evidence that increasing acidity is dissolving the shells of key species at the base of the food chain that are a food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.

“There is nothing more daunting for the commercial and recreational fishing industry than the impacts of climate change, and in particular, acidification,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Sausalito-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

The vast majority of the world’s scientists — including those at NOAA, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Meteorological Organization — say the Earth’s temperature is rising because of humans burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal. That burning pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and traps heat, similar to a greenhouse. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have increased 25 percent since 1960 and are now at the highest levels in at least 800,000 years, according to measurements of air bubbles taken in ancient ice and other methods.

Nearly a third of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved in the oceans. Some of that forms carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more corrosive.

Over the past 200 years, the ocean’s acidity has risen by roughly 30 percent. At the present rate, it is on track to rise by 70 percent by 2050 from preindustrial levels.

More acidic water can harm oysters, clams, corals and other species that have calcium carbonate shells. Generally speaking, increasing the acidity by 50 percent from current levels is enough to kill some marine species, tests in labs have shown. Impacts may also be seen outside of the lab.

“We are seeing an issue of availability of (oyster) seed,” said Terry Sawyer, co-owner of the Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall. “There have been complete crashes at these hatcheries. I am absolutely dependent on a healthy, functioning ecosystem.”

Mark Prado, Marin News, 16 June 2014. Text & video.

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