Acidification of the oceans need world attention

Posted on EPOCA: 12 Dec 2012 — Summit attendees urged to tell how ocean life is being affected, what can be done

 LONG BEACH, Wash. — Remember what it’s like to hold your breath, your lungs demanding fresh air with increasing urgency?

That awful sensation isn’t about lack of oxygen, but is a signal of a dangerous carbon dioxide level. This same CO2 is swiftly changing the chemistry in the earth’s oceans at a rate that would kill you if it were happening inside your own body.


Oceans cover nearly three-quarters of earth’s surface. They absorb and store about one-quarter of the CO2 we produce by burning fossil fuels. Via an ordinary chemical process, this extra carbon is partly converted into mild carbonic acid. This is called ocean acidification. Marine organisms may not feel like they’re holding their breath, but there are troubling signs of other kinds of distress.

This is a worsening problem with devastating potential consequences, especially for coastal communities. In one of her final major acts as Washington state governor, Democrat Chris Gregoire convened a 28-member Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Several of its members briefed attendees of Saturday’s Coastal Summit in Long Beach, Wash., a gathering of the state’s four coastal Marine Resource Committees.

Panelists encouraged the group of about 100 to tell the world how life here is being affected and what can be done to help deal with it. They said Gregoire’s straightforward order is “Lead!”

The Blue Ribbon panel issued its report late last month. It is available online at Saturday’s presentation was an in-person effort to engage coastal stakeholders in the issue and enlist their help in achieving a number of key early actions. These include broad-scale political advocacy to lower carbon emissions, as well as more locally oriented actions such as investigation how oyster-seed hatcheries might commercially treat seawater to protect vulnerable oyster larvae.

Describing how local shellfish producers must get engaged, blue ribbon panelist Brad Warren, director of the Global Ocean Health Program, said “Watch so that you can see the fist coming, so you have a chance.”

Warren said that Willapa Bay oystermen and oyster seed hatcheries on the Oregon Coast and Puget Sound have already managed to keep their businesses alive by adapting in smart ways to ocean acidification observed so far – 30 percent greater than pre-industrial levels.

In some of the briefing’s most vivid language, panelist Shallin Busch, a research ecologist at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said this 0.1 increase in pH – the scale scientists use to measure acidity – would cause cardiac arrest if it happened to a person’s body chemistry.

Asking the Legislature to spend $3.3 million on research and other early actions, Gregoire said at the Seattle Aquarium on Nov. 27, “Let’s get to work. Let’s lead the world in addressing this global challenge.”

State Rep. Brian Blake, D-19th District, a blue ribbon panel member, said Saturday that he thinks Gov.-elect Jay Inslee will support this spending. As a Democrat in Congress, Inslee was a leader of efforts to confront the separate but related issue of climate change.

Matt Winters, The Daily Astorian, 10 December 2012. Article.