NZ key to solving acid oceans crisis

Ocean acidification presents big challenges but the “can-do attitude” of New Zealanders will help to overcome them, a visiting United States expert says.

Based in Washington DC, Dr Todd Capson is science and policy adviser to the Global Oceans Health Programme developed by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Foundation and is in New Zealand on a trip funded by the US State Department.

He was at the Cawthron Institute’s Glen Aquaculture Park on Friday as a follow-up to a visit in December when he took part in a pioneering workshop on ocean acidification, which is caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Linked to global warming, it is blamed for coral bleaching, threatens ocean ecosystems and has caused significant problems for the aquaculture industry in other parts of the world.

Capson said his trip was partly to raise awareness of the Our Oceans conference hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry last month, which focused on sustainable fisheries, marine pollution and ocean acidification.

It also created the opportunity to build on the December workshop and look at “future-proofing” New Zealand aquaculture against the impacts of acidification.

He said this was a global problem and linked with man-made carbon dioxide emissions but much could be done to mitigate it. President Barack Obama’s decree last month that the US would work to cut its emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 was “hugely significant”, while a number of other measures could be put in place immediately.

“By no means is it too late,” Capson said.

“This is an issue that has not received enough attention historically, but that is changing. There is a lot of resilience in biological systems. The sooner we rein this in, the easier it will be for ecosystems and species to respond and adapt.”

He was “absolutely a glass half-full guy” and was visiting partly because conditions in New Zealand were conducive to coming up with solutions.

The gathering of reliable data was vital to addressing any environmental issue, he said.

“There is no single issue, there is no silver bullet, we have to work simultaneously, thoughtfully and collaboratively on multiple fronts and on every level: local, regional, national, international.”

Cawthron aquaculture scientist Dr Norman Ragg said the December workshop and continuing relationship with Capson were enormously important.

“There are deeply positive messages under what appears to be a fairly negative and rather alarming situation.”

Cawthron’s selective shellfish breeding and its other scientific expertise could be applied to ocean acidification just as they were used to produce mussels and oysters to resist disease and suit the aquaculture industry’s requirements, he said.

Bill Moore, Nelson Mail, 7 July 2014. Article.

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