Oregon works to fight ocean acidification

In a few weeks, thousands of visitors will travel to the Oregon Coast to experience the total eclipse as it makes landfall. Many will get to enjoy the taste of the spectacular local crabs, oysters and salmon that our ocean has to offer. While we will continue to share this ocean bounty with our friends and family long after the tourists have left, looming changes in ocean chemistry are threatening what we hold dear as Oregonians.

Scientists have discovered that our productive state waters are ground zero for the twin specters of ocean acidification and hypoxia. Lowering of ocean pH (acidification) and oxygen levels (hypoxia) from the direct and indirect effects of global CO2 emissions have begun to hit our shores. This already has put our shellfish industry at risk and more stressful declines in pH and oxygen are expected to come.

We have much at stake in sustaining a healthy ocean and will need to take innovative local actions if we are to get out in front of this global challenge. This will mean having access to new scientific research that can shine a light on what is happening and what can be done, building partnerships so that we can try out new ideas and a pipeline that can take what works and use that to change how we safeguard our coastal oceans. Can we get there? Can we take new ocean science and translate that into new ocean policy?

With the passage of Senate Bill 1039, our state has done exactly that. The legislation declares, for the first time, state policy on ocean acidification and hypoxia, recognizing the drivers of ocean chemistry changes and the early vulnerabilities of our state’s ocean ecosystems and coastal communities and economies. The legislation also takes an important step by setting up an official coordinating council comprised of state officials, scientists and stakeholders to ask for and review new research and ideas that can be translated into a growing basket of local, Oregon-led actions.

Already, Oregonians are rolling up their sleeves. Citizen scientists are working with university researchers to identify regions that are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification and those that are less impacted across our state’s marine reserves. Oyster growers have incorporated new sensors into their operations that allow them to buffer against declining water quality due to ocean acidification. University students are investigating the benefits of eelgrass beds as green infrastructure that can locally draw down CO2 through photosynthesis. Senate Bill 1039 will allow us to build from these important examples of Oregon-grown solutions, and give our state a strong voice to lead the region and the nation in science-informed stewardship of the ocean.

Oregon’s “all hands on deck” approach will be magnified further by Gov. Kate Brown’s recent commitment to tackle ocean acidification with regional and international partners as part of the Ocean Acidification Alliance. Against the tides of increasing global CO2 emissions and diminishing federal support for science, Oregon’s leadership in finding ways forward to safeguard our coastal ocean will be more valuable than ever.

Oregon State Daily News, 7 August 2017. Article.

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