Dan Haifley, Our Ocean Backyard: fight against acidification includes curbing organic pollution

A group of scientists convened by west coast state governments unveiled a plan earlier this month that proposes a series of initiatives to combat the effects of the changing chemistry of west coast waters. One of those proposals is an effort to further curb the amount of land-based organic pollution that flows to the sea.

Last August, I wrote about the underwater river that crosses the Pacific’s intermediate depths for a period of 20 to 50 years, bringing nutrient-laden water to the west coast. Having picked up organic material along the way, what arrives is lower in oxygen content than when its journey began north of Japan, with the potential to change the matrix of marine life over a period of time.

Scientists are now looking at the threat posed from the opposite direction — from land. The California Ocean Protection Council and the Ocean Science Trust have identified lower oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, and ocean acidification as priorities for research and action. Ocean acidification, evidenced by a minute lowering of the pH level of ocean waters, is a result of the absorption of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

“The ocean absorbs excess carbon from the atmosphere and over the past several decades, it’s been working overtime on that task,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, who Chairs the Ocean Protection Council. “It’s now having the effect of changing the pH level of the ocean. We asked the best minds available to help us assess the problem and identify ways to minimize the harm to our ocean.”

California officials have been working with their counterparts in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to find solutions to acidification and hypoxia for the waters off their shores. In early April, a panel of 20 scientists appointed by the four states that had been at work since 2013 released its report.

One proposed action is the use of seagrass to pull carbon dioxide out of seawater. “Seagrass beds and kelp forests are among the world’s most productive habitats …,” the report states. “The ability of aquatic vegetation to influence coastal chemistry… can exceed near-term declines projected from (ocean acidification).”

Another proposed strategy is the reduction in organic pollution that travels through storm drains and rivers to the sea which can exacerbate the intensity of acidification. “When nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are introduced to coastal waters, they can trigger proliferation of algae that, following their death, are decomposed by bacteria that further decrease dissolved-oxygen levels and increase acidity,” the report reads.

Other solutions the panel recommended include improving a West Coast-wide monitoring network to provide data to assist in ecosystem and fishery management. Another is the identification of ways to further reduce habitat destruction, contaminants, and invasive species, which would allow marine organisms to better cope with acidification.

Co-chaired by Ali Boehm of Stanford University and Francis Chan of Oregon State University and convened by former Ocean Protection Council Science Advisor Skyli McAfee, the panel also recommends that a permanent West Coast Science Task Force be formed to continue developing proposed solutions.

Dan Haifley (Our Ocean Backyard), Santa Cruz Sentinel, 23 April 2016. Article. 

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