Ocean Acidification In Washington’s Waters: Why Washington Needs To Act

Posted on KMAS NewsRadio: January 04, 2013 — This morning on Daybreak, Bill Dewey from Taylor Shellfish was on the show talking about Ocean Acidification and the risk it poses to Washington’s marine environment, economy and cultural resources.

Article submitted by Bill Dewey (click on link to KMAS at the bottom of this post to hear Bill’s interview):
Ocean Acidification in Washington’s Waters:  Why Washington Needs to Act

Ocean acidification is a risk to Washington’s marine environment, economy, and cultural resources

  • Ocean acidification creates conditions that are corrosive to shellfish and other organisms that use calcium carbonate to build shells and other hard body parts. These organisms are commonly referred to as calcifiers.
    • More than 30 percent of Puget Sound’s marine species are calcifiers, including oysters, clams, scallops, mussels, abalone, crabs, geoducks, barnacles, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea stars, and sea cucumbers. Species along the outer coast are also affected.
    • Calcifiers also provide habitat, shelter and food for plants and animals – putting at risk many other organisms.
    • Shellfish larvae and juveniles are especially vulnerable to more acidic waters.
    • Massive die-offs of oyster larvae at Pacific Northwest hatcheries between 2005 and 2009 were due to low pH seawater entering the hatcheries.


  • Ocean acidification could also affect the broader marine food web.
    • Many marine life processes, including photosynthesis, growth, respiration, recruitment, reproduction, and behavior, are sensitive to increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing pH in marine waters.
    • Pteropods, free-swimming snails eaten by seabirds, whales, and fish (especially Alaska pink salmon), can experience shell dissolution and grow more slowly in acidified waters.


  • Healthy shellfish and a healthy seafood industry are important to Washington’s economy and its tribes.
    • Shellfish of ecological and economic importance include oysters, mussels (native and Mediterranean), clams (e.g., geoduck, razor, littleneck, Manila), scallops, Dungeness crab, shrimp (e.g., spot prawns, pink shrimp), pinto abalone, and urchins.
    • Shellfish are critical to the health of Washington’s marine waters and the state’s economy.
    • The shellfish industry generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually and directly and indirectly supports 3,200 jobs.
    • Annual sales of farmed shellfish from Washington account for almost 85 percent of U.S. West Coast sales (including Alaska).
    • Shellfish are an integral part of Washington’s commercial wild fisheries, generating over two-thirds of the harvest value of these fisheries.
    • Licensing for recreational shellfish harvesting generates $3 million annually in state revenue and recreational oyster and clam harvesters contribute more than $27 million annually to coastal economies
    • Washington’s seafood industry generates an estimated 42,000 jobs and adds $1.7 billion annually to the state’s economy.
    • Almost all of the commercial wild clam fisheries in Puget Sound are tribal.
    • The tribes also harvest wild shellfish for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.

Ocean acidification is a problem that we can address, although it will be challenging

  • The primary cause of ocean acidification is human activities.
    • Ocean acidification is a lowering of pH level in seawater, caused primarily by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the oceans.
    • Rapid growth in the use of fossil fuels (e.g., coal and oil) for energy has dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, in turn, is causing rapid changes in ocean chemistry.
    • Ocean acidification and climate change share a common cause – increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


  • Washington is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Regional factors combine with global carbon dioxide emissions to exacerbate the acidification process.
    • Coastal upwelling brings cold, salty water that is rich in carbon dioxide and low in pH to Washington’s coast and eventually into the Puget Sound.
    • Nutrient runoff, organic carbon, and local air emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides (which move from air into seawater) also contribute to acidification, especially in more developed or urbanized regions. The relative importance of these local contributions varies by location, but has not been quantified.


  • The West Coast is currently facing severe acidification and the problem is expected to get worse in the coming decades.
    • West Coast shellfish producers are now experiencing levels of acidity that were not expected for decades.
    • Along the West Coast and within Puget Sound, scientists have documented levels of acidity up to three times greater than the average in the oceans.
    • Given the current rate of global carbon dioxide emissions, the average acidity of the global surface ocean is on pace to increase by about 150 percent (relative to pre-industrial levels) by the latter half of this century.

Washington is taking a leadership role in confronting the problem of ocean acidification

  • Governor Gregoire convened the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification in Feb. 2012, making Washington the first state in the nation to tackle ocean acidification at this level.
    • The Panel consisted of scientists; public opinion leaders; industry representatives; state, local, federal, and tribal policy makers; and conservation community representatives.
    • Panel scientists reviewed and summarized the current state of scientific knowledge about ocean acidification in Washington State. A technical document was produced, Scientific Summary of Ocean Acidification in Washington State Marine Waters. This document is the scientific foundation of the Panel’s recommendations.


  • The Panel’s report, OCEAN ACIDIFICATION: From Knowledge to Action, Washington State’s Strategic Response is submitted to the Governor and key policy makers on November 27, 2012.
  • The Panel is recommending 42 actions, including 18 “key early actions.” These actions are based on the following needs. Each recommendation has a role in reducing the causes and consequences of acidification. Action should be taken on each of them.
  • We need to address the root cause of acidification by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.The most urgent need is to slow the pace of acidification by reducing the sources of ocean acidification. Global emissions are the largest source of carbon dioxide. The Panel recommends Washington State continue to press for reduced carbon dioxide emissions at home and provide leadership in regional, national and international forums for larger-scale efforts.
  • We need to reduce local land-based pollutants that enhance acidification.The Panel recommends strengthening local source control programs to achieve needed reductions in nutrients and organic carbon that enhance the ocean acidification problem. An important step in reducing local sources is developing “acidification budgets” that will describe the various sources of acidification and their relative magnitude on a waterbody specific basis.
  • We need to help our shellfish industry and marine ecosystems adapt to ocean acidification.Adaptation and remediation help ensure the continued viability of native and commercial shellfish species and healthy marine ecosystems in Washington. The Panel’s recommendations provide tools and information for resource managers and shellfish growers to adjust to changing conditions and enhance ecosystem resilience.
  • We need research and monitoring to fill in knowledge gaps about ocean acidification.Major research and monitoring objectives include increasing our understanding of the status and trends of ocean acidification in Washington’s marine waters, characterizing biological responses of local species to acidification, and developing capabilities for short-term forecasting and long-term prediction.
  • We need active public education and engagement.Ocean acidification is a new issue for many people. Outreach and public education recommendations focus on sharing information on acidification with the public and other audiences, facilitating the exchange of information and ideas between stakeholders, and increasing ocean acidification literacy.
  • We need a sustained focus on acidification.Responding to ocean acidification will require a sustained effort – there’s no silver bullet solution. The Panel recommends creating a mechanism to coordinate and facilitate implementation of the Panel’s recommendations, continued stakeholder engagement, and scientific collaboration.


  • Washington has much to draw on to tackle this problem. Some of the world’s leading experts on ocean acidification, pollution reduction, and marine resource management work at the University of Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations.


View this story and hear the interview on KMAS NewsRadio