Maine must address the threat of ocean acidification

Mainers have strong cultural, historic and economic ties to the ocean. The health of the ocean is critical to our way of life. Ocean acidification is a growing problem that could damage the health of the ocean and have drastic consequences for Maine’s coastal economy.

Ocean acidification results when there is increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up, a large proportion of it – up to 40 percent – gets dissolved in rainwater. From here it ends up in lakes, ponds, rivers and ultimately the ocean.

In addition to the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, nutrients in the runoff from the land, like fertilizer, also increase the amount of carbon dioxide entering the ocean. The increased carbon dioxide reacts with the water to form carbonic acid, making it more acidic.

The increased acidity of sea water impacts marine life. One of the most important effects is how the acid changes the way organisms use calcium. Calcium is critical to the entire food chain in the Gulf of Maine. The planktons, which make up the base of the food chain, decrease in number as the acidity of the ocean rises, and this in turn has an impact on finned fish.

For shellfish, the impact is even more dramatic. The acid interferes with the way shellfish such as clams, mussels, scallops and even the iconic Maine lobster build their shells. It also can corrode shells. If we don’t find and adopt solutions, ocean acidification could cause major problems for most, if not all, of Maine’s commercial fisheries.

Acidification is speeding up. Over the last 250 years the oceans have become approximately 30 percent more acidic. This rate has increased and, unless something changes, the level of acidity in the world’s oceans is expected to double in the next forty years. At that point, the acidity will have reached a point where some marine organisms will fail to spawn or develop.

Ocean acidification is a very complex problem and there aren’t any simple answers. But now is the time to start asking what we know, what we can do about it, and what are the right next steps to find answers to the questions we can’t answer today. Because of the importance of the ocean to Maine, it is crucial that we understand more details about how increasing ocean acidification will affect us and what we can do about it.

To learn more about the most up-to-date studies on the impacts of ocean acidification and more importantly, to learn more about recommendations for remediation and policy changes to limit acidification, I will be attending the full-day symposium sponsored by The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership coming up on June 29.

The symposium will feature 15 presentations that will share new research, updates and progress reports from the past year on ocean and coastal acidification from around the state and beyond. It will tie in to earlier work done by the state on the problem, specifically the 2015 Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Study Commission’s Report, ordered by the 126th Legislature.

Topics at the symposium will include modeling and monitoring techniques for determining actual and projected levels of acidification, impacts on commercially important species and strategies for reducing acidification.

Ocean acidification has the potential to cripple our coastal economy, and I will be doing all I can to learn more about it and find ways we can act to limit or stop its impacts.

Lydia Blume, Fosters, 5 June 2016. Article.

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