Ocean acidification an ‘emerging issue’ in Maine

AUGUSTA – A healthy ocean is vital to Maine’s economy, particularly to the commercial fishermen and other marine-related businesses in southern coastal communities like Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

Now, the Maine Legislature has created a first-of-its-kind group, which is tasked with studying the negative impacts of ocean acidification and making recommendations for how to combat the problem.

The new Maine Ocean Acidification Commission, consisting of 16 members, officially kicked off during a press conference held last week.

The commission includes state Rep. Wayne Parry, who is a lobsterman from Arundel; Joe Payne, bay keeper for the Friends of Casco Bay; Mark Green, a professor of oceanography at Saint Joseph’s College; and Larry Mayer, Ph.D., a professor of oceanography at the University of Maine, among others.

“This commission is the first of its kind on the East Coast,” Beth Ahearn, program manager for the Maine Conservation Alliance, said in a press release. “There is no doubt that the time to act is now. This marks an important step forward in protecting Maine’s shellfish and coastal jobs from the growing threat of ocean acidification.”

According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, “Ocean acidification is emerging as an urgent environmental and economic issue on the east and west coasts.

(It) has potentially devastating ramifications for all ocean life, from the smallest, single-celled algae to the largest whales.”

The administration said that ocean acidification is occurring because the world’s oceans are absorbing increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, leading to greater acidity.

“This is literally causing a sea change and threatening the fundamental chemical balance of ocean and coastal waters from pole to pole,” the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website said.

The group defines ocean acidification as “a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period, typically decades or longer, which is caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Under a law passed by Congress, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration created the Ocean Acidification Program in the spring of 2011.

The program is designed to be “an integral part of a much broader U.S. research effort to increase our understanding about how and how fast the chemistry of the ocean is changing, how variable that change is by region and what impacts these changes are having on marine life, people and the local, regional, and national economies,” the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website said.

In addition to Maine’s new Ocean Acidification Commission, 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has introduced a bill in Congress that would require federal officials to study the effects of ocean acidification on coastal communities around the country.

Under the legislation, the Secretary of Commerce would be required to conduct studies to identify which communities are most dependent on ocean resources and how acidification would affect them if valuable industries were impacted.

“Ocean acidification could be a real threat to the fisheries that are the lifeblood of coastal communities. The truth is we don’t fully understand how it would impact a vital industry like the lobster fishery and what the effect would be on Maine,” Pingree said during last week’s kick-off for the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission.

“We know what’s causing ocean acidification, but now we need to better understand how hard it is going to hit coastal economies,” she added.

According to experts, the acidity of the world’s oceans has increased 30 percent in the last 100 years. The culprit is believed to be increased carbon pollution, which gets absorbed by the ocean and forms carbonic acid.

In addition, run-off from city streets and fertilized lawns, sewage and stormwater overflows send nitrogen into the ocean, where algae blooms release even more carbon dioxide into the water and mud.

All of this increased acid content, or acidification, weakens or dissolves the shells of small clams, oysters and other shellfish and impairs their ability to grow, reproduce, and fight off disease, according to the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission press release.

“Maine is taking the lead on ocean acidification on the Eastern seaboard. We understand that it is a real threat to our marine environment, jobs and way of life,” said state Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, who is the House chairman of the commission, as well as a marine biologist.

Maine’s marine shellfisheries employ thousands of people and the industry brings hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy annually, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

In all, the new Maine Ocean Acidification Commission consists of five members of the Legislature, three members of state government agencies and eight members of the public.

The commission must complete its work and report back to the Legislature by Dec. 5.

Researchers say ocean acidification is one of the biggest challenges Maine will face in the coming years, according to the Ocean Acidification Commission press release.

“Maine’s economy depends more on marine resources than any other state in the northeast,” the press release states and “many of the commercially important species in Maine live in coastal and estuarine regions, which are particularly vulnerable to acidification.”

The Ocean Acidification Commission press release added that scientists believe the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to ocean acidification and could reach critical thresholds more quickly than in other regions of the country because it is less buffered and because cold water holds more carbon dioxide.

“We cannot put Maine’s marine shellfisheries at greater risk,” Ahearn, of the Maine Conservation Alliance said. “We can be proud that once again Maine is taking the lead in responding to threats to our natural resources and developing innovative ways to protect our local economies and our way of life.”

Kate Irish Collins, keepmecurrent.com. 02 July 2014. Article.

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