Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the dangers of ocean acidification.
Of all the threats to the planet’s ocean, none may be more insidious or have longer-term impact than ocean acidification. It is also the least understood of all the potential harms.
Admittedly it is far easier to visualize plastic afloat on the surface of the Pacific or vast tracts of the Atlantic nearly devoid of fish than a chemical imbalance. But it is the change of acidity that may already be the ocean’s worst enemy.
Try this for a visualization, maybe it will help: 24 million tons of carbon dioxide created by the burning of fossil fuels – or the equivalent of 24 million Volkswagens – are dumped into the world’s ocean every single day.
On top of destroying coral reefs (the equivalent of wiping out rain forests on land) and killing off shellfish beds including mussels and oysters, a new report out of the U.K. suggests that the so-called “evil twin” of global warming is responsible for some fish losing their sense of smell and hearing.
It makes sense that ocean acidification is bad for marine life. But who knew it could have far-reaching effects on human health as well?
A new report by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) shows that ocean acidification is threatening global food security by hindering the growth of clam, oyster, and other mollusk populations – staples in many nations’ diets.
Without healthy and reliable mollusk populations, countries may be forced to switch to aquaculture. Countries like Haiti, Senegal, and Madagascar, however, lack the ability to make this switch and are thus especially vulnerable to the impacts of mollusk shortages. And of course, problems like this never exist in a vacuum; even developed countries such as the U.S. will feel the effects via a potential drop in GDP.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a theoretical problem – the deleterious effects can already be seen in both ecosystems and economic realms alike. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, scientists have observed that coral growth has slowed, and Pacific Northwest oyster farms have already experienced declining economic yields. Further effects, which will no doubt be broader in scope, will probably be seen in 10 to 50 years if we do not make a concerted effort to halt ocean acidification.
From CNN on Friday:
"I was happy about it," said [New Orleans resident Michael] Jackson, 50, about the capped well. "But who's to say that cap's going to hold?"
"It still doesn't do anything for our oysters," he said. "What about the marshes? There's no telling how long our oyster beds will be closed up."
From CNN today:
Oysterman Vlaho Mjehovich said the damage to the local waters has long-term repercussions.
"I've seen areas go for 10 years without oysters coming back. This is not going to be done and fixed overnight. People have to understand, this will take years to come back," he said. "What do you do? I had a business. Now, I don't have a business. My business was taken from me overnight. I have to go look for a job now."
Emily Peterson, a southern Louisiana native and Foundations Associate here at Oceana, has been in Louisiana witnessing the effects of the oil spill. She sent us this dispatch from a teach-in she attended.
Yesterday evening a crowd of New Orleans residents attended a teach-in to discuss the oil spill tragedy unfolding in our backyard on the Gulf. The event offered residents an opportunity to learn the facts and ask questions in a non-politicized environment, and to build a sense of solidarity to cope with this unprecedented environmental and cultural tragedy.
While oil-covered birds have become an emblematic image of catastrophic oil spills, sea birds aren’t the only ones affected. Oil is extremely toxic to all wildlife, and the toxic effects on marine life begins as soon as the oil hits the water.
Here are 10 examples of how marine life may be affected by the Gulf spill in the coming days, weeks and years
When John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1600s he reported that oysters "lay as thick as stones." Now they are at about 2 percent of their historic population, and in 2008 the federal government declared the blue crab fishery a commercial failure.
The Bay has seen much better days, and so have its watermen. Such is this premise of a new documentary by Laura Seltzer, “The Last Boat Out." Wednesday evening I attended an advanced screening of the documentary, which is narrated by Oceana board member Sam Waterston.
The 30-minute film portrays the Chesapeake Bay's watermen as an endangered species themselves, fighting to stay afloat amid shrinking populations of crabs, oysters and fish -- their historic bread and butter.
Filmmaker Laura Seltzer focuses on a pair of middle-aged brothers who are struggling to continue the family business on the water. They represent a few of the 2800 remaining watermen, who have seen a 70% decline in 30 years.
Nutrient pollution is a big part of the problem, as Seltzer demonstrates. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture, wastewater and fertilizer deplete the bay’s oxygen, creating dead zones that can’t sustain life.
Happy Friday, everyone.
It's been a rough few weeks for the oceans at CITES, but now it's time to pick up the pieces. If CITES taught us anything, it's that the work of the ocean conservation community is more important than ever.
This week in ocean news,
....Rick at Malaria, Bed bugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets discussed one of the more shady aspects of CITES: the secret ballots, which were invoked for votes on bluefin tuna, sharks, polar bears, and deep water corals.
…The Washington Post reported that Maryland is cracking down on watermen who catch oysters in protected sanctuaries or with banned equipment. Once a principal source of oysters, the Chesapeake now provides less than 5 percent of the annual U.S. harvest.
…For the first time, scientists were able to use videos to observe octupuses’ behavioral responses. The result? The octupuses had no consistent reaction to one film -- in other words, they had no “personality.” Curiously, other cephalopods display consistent personalities for most of their lives.
…The New York Times wondered if the 700,000 saltwater home aquariums in the United States and the associated trade in reef invertebrates are threatening real reef ecosystems.
Yesterday, a few of us attended a staff briefing on Capitol Hill on ocean acidification and fisheries put on by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.
There were representatives from the fishing communities of the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico and Maine. They were requesting that additional resources be channeled towards ocean acidification research so that we can better understand how fisheries are and will be impacted by rising ocean acidity.
The Whisky Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Oregon has already experienced massive collapses in their oyster stocks due to rising ocean acidity, and they’ve been doing a lot of research on their own to monitor changes in pH. Their representatives called for a comprehensive system of measuring pH so that they and other hatcheries can adapt to changes and not be driven out of business by ocean acidification.
This group of fishers also recognized that while it is important to figure out ways to adapt to the changes that are already happening, without a true cap on carbon dioxide and serious decreases in emissions, these fisheries will not have a future.
[Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb is a marine scientist at Oceana.]