New study finds Alaskans familiar with ocean acidification, not aware of risks to fisheries

620300c1768EDNmain10966Port Conclusion from Natalie Monacci 2New research published in Marine Policy from the first Alaska-focused study on public understanding and awareness of ocean acidification risk shows that Alaskans are three times more aware of ocean acidification than Americans in general.  However, Alaskans have difficulty seeing ocean acidification as an immediate risk, and the direct risks to Alaska’s fisheries are still not well understood. The research, “Gauging perceptions of ocean acidification in Alaska,” can be read online.

In Alaska, the impacts of ocean acidification have the potential to be even worse than “other coastal communities because of an accelerated rate of change in ocean chemistry, and statewide reliance on commercial and subsistence fishing. Accurately evaluating ocean acidification risk directly influences the ability to respond to change. The research builds on earlier NOAA-led research showing that communities in southeast and southwest Alaska are more at risk than other areas of the state because of their heavy reliance on fisheries expected to be impacted by ocean acidification.

“We wanted to learn the best way to provide Alaskans with the information they need to properly respond to ocean acidification,” said Lauren Frisch, who led the study and is a research associate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center. “The first step was to determine where there are gaps in the understanding of ocean acidification so that we can then work to fill them in.”

Some 2000 Alaskans received a questionnaire in September, 2013. Questionnaires asked about each respondent’s role in the state’s fishing industry as well as their belief in, understanding of, and concern about ocean acidification. The questionnaire’s response rate was 18 percent, which is high for studies of this nature. Results showed limited understanding of how Alaska will be uniquely impacted by ocean acidification. For example, only 28 percent of Alaskans believe that ocean acidification would have a greater impact on Alaska than other states in the United States.  Alaskans affiliated with the state’s fishing industry are not significantly more concerned about ocean acidification than those unaffiliated, and only 33 percent believe that ocean acidification will decrease revenue for fisheries. Finally, ocean acidification is perceived as a distant risk.

“It can be difficult to think about ocean acidification as an immediate risk with all of the other challenges that we’re facing,” said Jeremy Mathis, who is the co-lead author on the paper describing the study’s results and an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We really have to work harder to get the message out to stakeholders around Alaska that ocean acidification is something that they need to consider sooner rather than later.”

With a better idea of what Alaskans understand about this issue, the next step is to shape public education in a way that facilitates a long-term discussion of ocean acidification drivers and impacts, as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies.

“Moving forward, we need to figure out how to enhance this understanding that acidification is not uniform, and therefore adaptation plans will be more successful if they are local.  Educating communities with local examples about their specific risk could help foster this understanding.  The best thing we can do is provide vulnerable communities the toolset to evaluate risk themselves,” said Frisch.

NOAA, 22 December 2014. Article.



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