Turning point on ocean acidification?

Acidifying oceans are often thought of as an intractable problem with only a sole global solution – decrease carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. While that is true, it is also unlikely, at least in the near term. But there are other strategies that can reduce acidification’s impacts.

On April 4, the 20 prominent scientists of the West Coast Ocean Acidification & Hypoxia Science Panel (http://westcoastoah.org) recommended 14 concrete actions to help coastal areas adapt to acidifying seas, including: map regional hotspots of acidification, develop new nearshore water-quality standards, improve eelgrass restoration to remove CO2, and explore adaptive breeding techniques to help the shellfish industry cope with changing ocean chemistry. “There are a host of actions that we can and should take now”, insists Francis Chan, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University (OSU; Corvallis, OR) and panel co-chair. “If we don’t we’ll be in a lot worse position.”

While similar reports in the past have typically gathered dust, policy makers and state agencies are apparently keen to implement this report’s recommendations. In California, two legislative bills have already been introduced – to accelerate the science behind seagrass restoration and to identify potential adaptation measures to acidification. According to Jennifer Phillips, program manager at the non-profit Ocean Protection Council (Sacramento, CA), “In just one year there’s been a stark culture change in how people are thinking – that we can actually do something about ocean acidification”. Additionally, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (www.sccwrp.org) is working to help dischargers find ways to improve water quality.

Oregon, too, is moving forward on the recommendations. Oregon state senator Arnie Roblan penned an opinion piece in the Eugene Register Guard calling for an academic center to study acidification and for the state to continue a tradition of leadership in sustainable use of natural resources. Oregon-based oyster growers are already exploring how best to use seagrass to lower the CO2 content in water, to alleviate detrimental impacts on shellfish larvae. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than simply planting more seagrass. But OSU marine chemist George Waldbusser (Corvallis, OR) is investigating how water flow rates, seagrass leaf area, and other variables control local CO2 levels in seawater and, ultimately, oyster growth. “We’re doing a global grand experiment – with rates of change that are unusual in the geologic record”, admits Waldbusser. “But there are a whole lot of things we can do locally if we decided to pull together collectively and address these issues.”

Gewin V., 2016. Turning point on ocean acidification? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14(5):233. Article.

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