Ocean acidification fact, not theory

Ocean acidification is fact, not theory, and collaboration and adaptation are key to tackling this crisis. That was the conclusion of local shellfish growers, marine managers and scientists who gathered September 10 in Friday Harbor, Washington.

Convened by the San Juan Marine Resources Committee, with support from the Northwest Straights Initiative, Puget Sound Partnership and Charlotte Martin Foundation, the shellfish growers and marine managers met all day to discuss changing ocean conditions and how they impact local shellfish growing and marine management.

The sobering truth is that anthropogenic carbon dioxide—carbon dioxide caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels—is changing the chemistry of the ocean. The effects of positive changes we make today won’t be seen for the next 30 to 50 years, because pollution in ocean waters circulates for decades.

Because of this “…things will get worse before they get better, so we have to learn to adapt,” said Bill Dewey, public affairs manager for Taylor Shellfish Farm, who started noticing changes in his shellfish in 2005.

Increasing acidity in ocean water results in shells that are thinned, pitted and not properly formed, Dewey said. One-third of all the species in the Salish Sea are animals that make shells out of calcium carbonate, making our local waters, and the shellfish farming industry, particularly vulnerable. Dewey posited that success would be gained in part through diligent monitoring.

Recognizing the problem through data collection is only part of the solution, according to Dr. Joel Baker, director of the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute Center for Urban Waters. “Analyzing (the data) requires a tremendous amount of time and ongoing collaboration with colleagues,” he said. He also stressed the importance of being realistic about what’s happening, and facing it head on.

All of the workshop leaders agreed that solutions begin with knowledge and education. Dr. Jan Newton, Co-director of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, singled out and praised the work of young, enthusiastic graduate students. “Let’s arm ourselves with information and educate the next generation,” said Dr. Newton. “We need to be ambassadors for the oceans.”

“It’s within our power to make positive changes,” said Dr. Terrie Klinger, Co-director of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center. “We here in the San Juan Islands and Washington State have a great responsibility not to fail. We can make a difference.”

There is still much research to be done about ocean acidification, which is affecting us globally as well as locally. It impacts not just our shellfish, but any organism that needs calcium carbonate to build any part of its body structure. For more information about ongoing efforts and to learn what you can do, go to http://coenv.washington.edu/research/major-initiatives/ocean-acidification/, http://www.nanoos.org/, or http://pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification.

In addition, the San Juan Marine Resources Committee expects to post the lecture presentations from the workshop to their web site within the next month.

Tim Dustrude, San Juan Island Update, 18 September 2014. Article.

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