Acid test: SBU-heavy task force tackles oceanic threat

Keep it clean: With oceanic acidity levels rising rapidly, a newly appointed New York State task force will look to mitigate a potential environmental disaster.

Long Island is well-represented on a new state task force assigned to assess and address the health of coastal waters.

Stony Brook University, in particular, will be lending significant scientific acumen to the 14-member Ocean Acidification Task Force, which was formed to study the ecological and economic impacts of acidification – increased levels of carbonic acid in the water, caused by dissolved carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, land-based nutrient runoff and other sources – and to create an action plan.

Only 11 members of the task force have been named so far, but the list already includes three prominent SBU scientists, in addition to other Long Island-based experts.

Malcolm Bowman, a distinguished service professor in the university’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and R. Lawrence Swanson, the school’s former dean and director, have been named to the panel, as designees of the New York State Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, respectively.

They will join State Assembly appointee Carl Safina, the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences’ endowed research chair for nature and humanity and director of The Safina Center, a Setauket-based, not-for-profit research and environmental-advocacy organization.

Also contributing to the OATF will be attorney David Gugerty, Democratic commissioner of the Nassau County Board of Elections (Nassau County’s official designee), and former Long Island Farm Bureau President Karen Rivara, owner of the Southold-based Aeros Cultured Oyster Co. (Suffolk County’s appointee).

Other appointees to date represent various state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation and the NYS Office of General Services, as well as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Virginia-based watchdog The Nature Conservancy and private industry.

The still-forming task force, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting this fall, will be supported by the DEC’s East Setauket-based Division of Marine Resources and other faculty members from SBU’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, according to the DEC.

Its primary missions: To produce a report on, and a strategy for dealing with, the anticipated effects of ocean acidification, which the DEC says is occurring at a faster rate now than “any time on record” – about 10 times faster than the “last major acidification event,” which occurred 55 million years ago (roughly 15 million years after dinosaurs roamed the Earth, when the earliest primates started swinging).

With human activity since the Industrial Revolution increasing planetary carbon dioxide levels by about 30 percent, and roughly one-quarter of all human-produced CO2 absorbed by ocean waters, ocean acidity is a serious menace, according to the DEC – and the task force will look to mitigate that potential environmental catastrophe by creating recommendations for stronger protections and new enforcement standards.

Focusing primarily on marine animal and plant life, the OATF will perform a thorough review of all scientific data regarding ocean acidification, monitor contributors to the OA process in New York waters and create recommendations for increasing public awareness – along with “adaptive” response measures that can be incorporated into state environmental plans, the DEC said.

It’s critically important work, noted DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who said Cuomo signed a 2016 law establishing the task force “to ensure that the best available science is used to assess and respond to this emerging threat.”

“The task force is charged with providing New York with the tools and information to protect our natural resources from changing ocean chemistry and safeguard the long-term sustainability of our fisheries,” Seggos said Wednesday.

Sustaining those fisheries is fairly important to the New York State economy, with marine resources supporting nearly 350,000 statewide jobs and generating billions of annual dollars through tourism, fishing and other waterborne industries.

On Long Island, the importance of healthy ocean waters is even more apparent: About 10 percent of the Island’s total GDP is based on the marine economy, according to the DEC.

Statistics like that were more than enough to spur Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the State Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, to action. Englebright, who created the legislation that Cuomo signed into law two years ago, said uniting experts in climatology, hydrology, marine fisheries, aquaculture, oceanography and related disciplines is New York’s best chance to confront this potential climate-change disaster.

“One of the primary reasons I drafted this legislation is that we have a responsibility to prepare for the impacts of climate change, and that includes the impacts on the ocean,” the assemblyman said in a statement. “With millions of New Yorkers living near the coast, this task force has some important work to do.

“Like climate change, the process of ocean acidification is invisible,” Englebright added. “The work of the Ocean Acidification Task Force will bring the magnitude of this threat into plain sight and help us develop strategies to mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification.”

Gregory Zeller, Innovateli, 23 August 2018. Article.


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