Ocean acidification threatens Florida’s economy

I’m an angler and surfer. I spend every moment I can spare on the water with my two sons, who fish and surf with me in Florida’s beautiful offshore waters. They’re developing a strong love for the ocean, which makes me proud and allows me to share a culture with them that ties us closely to the water.

But unfortunately, my sons, fellow anglers and surfers, and I have seen some unsettling changes in the ocean and the life it supports in the past several years — fish migrate earlier, there’s less sea grass to protect and house young sea life, oyster crops are declining, and coral reefs are bleaching. There’s probably no single reason to blame for these changes, but we do know that ocean acidification could be partly responsible.

Ocean acidification is a change in ocean chemistry that happens when carbon pollution from the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean. This makes ocean waters acidify, so that oysters, clams and corals have trouble building their shells and skeletons. Also, sharks, cobia and dolphinfish have trouble hearing and smelling in these acidified waters. Scientists expect that these changes could have ripple effects up and down the food chain.

Ocean acidification does not bode well for our oceans’ ecosystems, and especially for Florida’s fishing and tourist economies that demand access to clean waters and healthy and abundant sea life in all forms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “Fisheries Economics of the United States 2012” reported that in 2011 saltwater fishing generated sales of more than $8 billion in Florida. The report also stated that saltwater recreational fishing supported 109,341 Florida jobs in 2012. Other academics and think tanks have estimated that recreational coral reef diving, fishing and wildlife viewing generates roughly $6 billion in local sales and $2.8 billion in local income.

If ocean acidification’s growing threat continues to affect Florida’s ocean wildlife and saltwater fishing opportunities, businesses and communities that rely on clean waters, healthy ecosystems and abundant fisheries could quickly feel the sting.

Several states are meeting the challenges of ocean acidification head-on. Washington, California, Maine and Maryland — other states with strong ties to the ocean — are monitoring changes in ocean chemistry, coordinating with fishermen and shellfish farmers with innovative projects that address long-term solutions, and working to reduce carbon pollution to limit future ocean acidification.

Fortunately, Florida lawmakers are addressing ocean acidification’s current and future impacts to our local communities and state economy. This year, three Florida U.S. House members (Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota; Carlos Curbelo, R-Kendall; and Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville) were original co-sponsors of the bipartisan Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (HR 2553). Since then, seven more Florida representatives (Alcee Hastings, D-Altamonte Springs; Patrick Murphy, D-Miami; Thomas Rooney, R-Okeechobee; Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; David Jolly, R-Indian Shores; and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa) have signed on in support. The act directs NOAA to study how ocean acidification could affect people in coastal communities through changing job opportunities, identify dangers to the nation’s communities that rely on ocean-based economies, and find possible adaptation strategies or solutions to mitigate ocean acidification’s threats.

Ocean acidification is a relatively new environmental issue, but for those of us in tune with the ocean’s rhythms and flow, it is here and we are already feeling its effects. I do not want my sons fishing and surfing an ocean that is not as vibrant as it is now.

It is essential that we learn as much about ocean acidification now, so we can meet the threat head-on and find solutions to mitigate its effects. Sportsmen, commercial fishermen and everyone who relies on the ocean for work or play deserves to know how ocean acidification will affect Florida.

Chris McHan, an oceans advocate and father of two oceangoing boys, is finishing his masters in environmental science and policy at the University of South Florida. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Chris McHan, Tampa Bay Times, 31 August 2015. Article.

1 Response to “Ocean acidification threatens Florida’s economy”

  1. 1 PI 1 September 2015 at 17:46

    Ocean acidification is not a new environmental topic. We’ve been talking about that for at least 15 years! But nobody listened.

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