Increase in ocean acidity
The world’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As the oceans soak up excess carbon emissions, the chemistry of the seawater changes — both locally and globally. This absorption alters the ocean’s natural acid-base balance. This move toward a lower pH value is called ocean acidification.
Washington is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Washington’s coastal waters experience seasonal upwelling where waters that are naturally low in oxygen and rich in CO2 rise to the surface. Coastal waters also receive excess nitrogen from human activities that can stimulate algae blooms. As these blooms die and sink, bacteria decompose them, depleting oxygen from the surrounding water. The combined effects of upwelling, nitrogen inputs, and low oxygen zones mean that Washington is likely to see increased impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms earlier than other coastal areas.
A need for action
Recognizing the risks of ocean acidification to Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire created the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification to chart a course for addressing the causes and consequences of acidification.
The Panel, convened in February 2012, was assembled under the guidance of the Washington Shellfish Initiative, a regional partnership established to implement the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Shellfish Initiative. Members include scientists; public opinion leaders; industry representatives; state, local, federal, and tribal policymakers; and conservation community representatives.
The full report identifies 42 actions, including 18 “Key Early Actions,” that will increase Washington’s capacity to understand, reduce, remediate, and where possible adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification. In 2017, the Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) convened Washington’s leading ocean acidification thinkers to evaluate progress, next steps, and potential revisions to the recommended actions identified in 2012. The 2017 Addendum updates the comprehensive strategy based on emerging science, management practices, and the new global network of partners working on this challenge. Actions to address ocean acidification include broad categories that are discussed below.
Reduce carbon dioxide emissions
Carbon dioxide emissions are the most significant driver of ocean acidification. Emissions of carbon dioxide must be significantly reduced or the other actions recommended here will be far less effective in addressing the risk of ocean acidification.
Reduce local land-based contributions to ocean acidification
Reducing inputs of nutrients and organic carbon from local sources will decrease acidity in marine waters impacted by these local sources. This will decrease the effects of ocean acidification on local marine species in those areas.
Increase the ability to adapt to and remediate the impacts of ocean acidification
A wide range of measures must be implemented to adapt to and remediate the impacts of ocean acidification in order to limit future losses of shellfish production, jobs, local businesses, and natural resources.
Invest in Washington’s ability to monitor ocean acidification and investigate its effects
Investing in ocean acidification research and monitoring will provide the necessary scientific support for developing, implementing, and evaluating effective responses to ocean acidification.
Inform, educate, and engage stakeholders, decision makers, and the public
Public engagement and dialogue on ocean acidification and how to address it are essential to building support for effective implementation of the recommended actions.
Maintain a sustainable and coordinated focus on ocean acidification.
Addressing the impacts of changing ocean chemistry on marine ecosystems and coastal communities requires sustained leadership and support from the governor and other state officials, and a coordinating mechanism to facilitate the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations.