Cantwell introduces bipartisan bill to establish national ocean acidification monitoring strategy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a bipartisan bill to enhance ocean monitoring, research and forecasting. The Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act (S. 1886) would create a national ocean acidification monitoring strategy to prioritize investments in ocean acidification sensors to areas that need it most. The bipartisan bill also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation to make investments in adaptation and mitigation research so we understand how to make our coastal economies more resilient to the threat of ocean acidification.

“Ocean acidification will have a vast impact on commercial and environmental conditions across the nation – and currently threatens jobs in Washington State.  Shellfish in the Pacific Northwest have already been negatively affected, but we don’t know yet what this means for salmon populations and larger coastal ecosystems,” said Cantwell. “This bill ensures that NOAA is making the appropriate investments in research, and monitoring the ongoing impact of this threat to our coastal economies.”

Ocean acidification results from changing ocean chemistry when seawater absorbs increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it is already negatively impacting coastal economies in Washington state.  A recent study in Nature Climate Change  identifies communities at significant risk for sustained economic losses resulting from ocean acidification’s impact on shellfish fisheries.  Communities at the highest risk were found in these 15 states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Florida, North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas.  A July 2014 report published in Progress in Oceanography identified seafood jobs across Alaska that could be impacted by ocean acidification, such as king crab and salmon.

The Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act would require NOAA to build upon these models and conduct a nationwide economic vulnerability assessment to determine the impact ocean acidification would have on our economy, and our coastal ecosystems. The bill would also require NOAA to develop a strategy for the deployment of new ocean acidification sensors — based on the economic vulnerability assessment.   Access to real-time ocean acidification data has been critical for shellfish farmers in Washington state. Enhanced data collection structures included in this legislation is critical for scientists to close knowledge gaps, and help us understand how ocean acidification could impact our fisheries and ecosystems.

In 2010, Cantwell secured funding to acquire and deploy ocean acidification sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington state. Today, these sensors have been integrated into NOAA’s national ocean observing program—the IOOS program. These sensors allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real-time and close off their shellfish rearing tanks when ocean acidity is too high. Cantwell also has previously highlighted why additional research is needed to understand ocean acidification’s potential damage to critical salmon food sources – including small crustaceans.

Cantwell’s bill also would expand the installation of high frequency radar stations, which are part of the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) network. Last year, Cantwell toured the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Port Angeles, where she learned how the Coast Guard uses high-frequency radar to assist in finding missing or distressed boaters in the mid-Atlantic. Washington state has the largest high-frequency radar gap on the West Coast – with nearly 80 percent of the state’s coastline lacking high-frequency radar coverage. High-frequency radar also can be used to map oil spills and to monitor harmful algae blooms and track water quality.

Cantwell’s bill would also improve coordination between ocean science and monitoring and the National Weather Service, which is vital in the Pacific Northwest where nearly all of our storms originate offshore.  Lastly, the bill authorizes a program to measure and share marine sound.  Monitoring sound in the marine environment is important so we can understand the impacts on Southern resident orcas and other key species.

US Senator Maria Cantwell’s blog, 30 July 2015. Article.


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