Dan Haifley, Our Ocean Backyard: Counteracting changes in ocean chemistry

While many in the science community are concerned with reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change, work is also underway in response to ocean acidification, a change in the pH of the ocean resulting from the ocean’s absorption of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

The governments of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are collaborating to address issues affecting the ocean waters they share. They convened a group of scientists in 2013 that subsequently proposed ways to counteract the effects of the changing chemistry of ocean waters, including an effort to further curb land-based organic pollution that flows seaward.

The California Ocean Protection Council and the Ocean Science Trust have identified lower oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, and acidification as research and action priorities. The latter, evidenced by a minute lowering of the pH level of ocean waters, is a result of the absorption of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Last April, the panel of 20 scientists appointed by the four states released their report. One proposal is the use of seagrass to pull carbon dioxide out of ocean waters. State Sen. Bill Monning’s Senate Bill 1363, which largely dealt with the restoration of eelgrass in state waters, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown at the end of September.

Monning’s legislation also directs the Ocean Protection Council and California’s Coastal Conservancy, which manages access and restoration projects along the shoreline, to establish a program to restore eelgrass in state waters. In a written statement, Monning said that eelgrass is “… a native California plant that creates a more hospitable environment for other native species and helps to mitigate the impact of carbon dioxide on the earth’s atmosphere.”

Eelgrass is an underwater grass that grows in nearshore waters areas and estuaries. It provides food, shelter from predators and surfaces for spawning. Eelgrass also filters pollution and absorbs excess nutrients — which can hasten algae growth — found in ocean and estuarine waters. It also counteracts the effects of sea level rise by buffering wave energy that threaten land forms at the water’s edge. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that since the 1850s, 90 percent of California’s eelgrass habitat has been destroyed and the remainder is exposed to threats.

The bill also establishes the “Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Reduction Program” that would, according to Monning’s office, involve demonstration projects to evaluate the best locations for carbon dioxide removal, including the protection and restoration of eelgrass beds and require the Ocean Protection Council to generate a list of locations “where conservation or restoration of aquatic habitats, including eelgrass, can be successfully applied.” SB 1363 also requires that plans for habitat restoration consider elements that remove carbon dioxide.

On Monday, the California Ocean Protection Council, chaired by California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, took up actions to implement the science panel recommendations, and to continue its work with Pacific Coast Collaborative — which includes the four state governments plus Alaska — to take action on acidification worldwide.

Dan Haifley (Our Ocean Backyard), Santa Cruz Sentinel, 22 October 2016. Article.

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