Study Committee Calls for Maine to Act on Ocean Acidification

Portland Press Herald, Dec 2nd, 2014 By Kevin Miller

A report to legislators says more research and local efforts are needed to deal with the threat to shellfish, including lobsters and clams.

AUGUSTA — Maine should increase research and monitoring into how rising acidity levels in oceans could harm the state’s valuable commercial fisheries while taking additional steps to reduce local pollution that can affect water chemistry.

Those are two major recommendations of a state commission charged with assessing the potential effects of ocean acidification on lobster, clams and other shellfish. The Legislature created the commission this year in response to concerns that, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen, the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because oceans absorb the gas.

Researchers are concerned that organisms that form shells – everything from Maine’s iconic lobster to shrimp and the tiny plankton that are key links in the food chain – could find it more difficult to produce calcium carbonate for shells in more acidic seawater. They worry that the acidification could intensify as carbon levels rise and the climate warms.

Although research on Maine-specific species is limited, the commission of scientists, fishermen, lawmakers and LePage administration officials said the findings are “already compelling” enough to warrant action at the state and local level.

“While scientific research on the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and individual organisms is still in its infancy, Maine’s coastal communities need not wait for a global solution to address a locally exacerbated problem that is compromising their marine environment,” according to an unofficial version of the report unanimously endorsed by commission members Monday.

The panel’s report will be presented to the Legislature after Monday’s final edits are incorporated. Those recommendations include:

Work with the federal government, fishermen, environmental groups and trained citizens to actively monitor acidity changes in the water or sediments, and organisms’ response to those changes.

 Conduct more research across various species and age groups to get a better sense of how acidification is affecting the ecosystem.

 Identify ways to further reduce local and regional emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels – and to reduce runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that can contribute to acidification.

 Reduce the impact of acidification through natural methods, such as increasing the amount of photosynthesizing marine vegetation like eelgrass and kelp, promoting production of filter-feeding shellfish operations, and spreading pulverized shells in mudflats with high acidity.

 Create an ongoing ocean acidification council to monitor the situation, recommend additional steps and educate the public. This recommendation is the only concrete legislative proposal contained within the report.

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Scientists Warn of Dangers from Ocean Acidification

Lawmakers Pass East Coast’s First Ocean Acidification Bill

Maine Insights, By Ramona Du Houx, April 18th, 2014

The Legislature on Thursday passed the East Coast’s first bill to address the threat of ocean acidification as the Senate gave the measure its final approval with a vote of 33-0. The bill, LD 1602, now goes to Gov. Paul LePage.

“Maine has the opportunity to lead on this issue,” said Rep. Mick Devin, the bill’s sponsor and a marine biologist. “The overwhelming support for my bill shows that Maine understands that ocean acidification is a real problem. It poses a threat to our coastal environment and the jobs that depend on it. We must address this threat head-on.”

The measure would establish a commission to study and address the negative effects of ocean acidification on the ecosystem and major inshore shellfisheries. The committee membership would be made up of stakeholders including fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists and legislators.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use are causing changes in ocean chemistry. As carbon dioxide and seawater combine, carbonic acid forms. Carbonic acid can dissolve the shells of shellfish, an important commercial marine resource. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased 30 percent.

If left unchecked, ocean acidification could cause major losses to shellfisheries like clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins and put at risk thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

Shellfish hatcheries on the West Coast have failed in recent years due to 60 to 80 percent production losses caused by ocean chemistry changes, which can take place quickly. A 2007 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered changes in ocean chemistry not expected for another 50 to 100 years on the West Coast.

Devin’s bill is one of the key legislative issues of the Environmental Priorities Coalition this year. The coalition cited research that found the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to the effects of ocean acidification than other parts of the East Coast.

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European Union is funding a €3.6 million shellfish study to understand affects of OA

A team of international scientists has launched an ambitious mission to understand how the warming and acidification of the world’s oceans will affect Europe’s shellfish.

Currently scientists do not fully understand how species such as oysters, mussels, scallops and clams produce their shells, or how a change in environment will affect their populations. To address this, the European Union is funding a €3.6 million programme called CACHE (Calcium in a Changing Environment).

Coordinated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge this multi-national programme, which aims to train a new generation of marine scientists, will look at every aspect of how the animals produce their shells and strive to identify populations which are resilient to climate change.

The shellfish industry is an important contributor to the European marine economy – dubbed the “Blue economy” – which is currently worth €500 billion every year and provides an estimated 5.4 million jobs.

These relatively small animals play an important role in the oceans because they are a crucial part of marine biodiversity and, as they make their shells out of calcium carbonate, they have a role in absorbing CO2. While the fishery industry built around them provides jobs in rural communities the animals themselves are also seen as an important and healthy food.

Shellfish have been highlighted as being particularly at risk under future climate change scenarios.

The risk comes because their shells are made of calcium carbonate – a substance which dissolves under acidic conditions. As the oceans become warmer and more acidic their shells will either thin, or the animals will have to expend more energy on producing thicker shells. This will affect their population sizes and the quality of the meat they produce, directly affecting the fisheries economy and damaging consumer choice.

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Scientists Embark On West Coast Ocean Acidification Mission

July 25, 2013 | KCTS9


The shellfish industry, which injects about $111 million each year into the Pacific Northwest’s economy, is particularly at risk from the threat of ocean acidification. | credit: Katie Campbell |

SEATTLE — On Monday scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will begin a one-month U.S. West Coast expedition to investigate ocean acidification, an issue that poses a serious threat to the Pacific Northwest’s shellfish industry.

“We will for the first time not only study the chemistry of acidification, but also study the biological impacts on the marine ecosystems in the open ocean,” says Richard A. Feely, a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Research Laboratory in Seattle. Feely is co-chief of the mission.

Over the past 30 years, oceanographers like Feely have found that the burning of fossil fuels has released about 2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. About a quarter of that has been absorbed by the oceans, Feely says. Carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid and that acid can corrode the shells of calcifying organisms including oysters and clams.

This upcoming expedition follows the same path taken during a similar survey in 2007, stretching from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. That earlier expedition was the first survey to show that the West Coast of North America is a hot spot for ocean acidification.

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Maine Confronts a Sea Change

July 03, 2013 18:55
By Brad Warren
Bill Mook suspected trouble in the water when he first noticed plankton blooms dwindling, raising questions about the future supply of natural feed for the clams and oysters he raises in a tidal reach of Maine’s Damariscotta River.
Over the last decade he witnessed an increase in intense storms that brought torrential rains. Mook also spotted a pattern inside his hatchery, which spawns and produces oyster “seed” for his own and other farms in the region. After heavy rains, larvae and their tank-raised microalgae feed became harder to grow. Mook saw his tiny, new-hatched oysters circling at the bottom of the tanks instead of swimming actively through the water column as usual.
This was the same larval behavior reported by West Coast oyster hatchery managers when their larvae began dying in increasingly corrosive water, threatening “seed” supplies. The worst-hit animals failed to develop properly or even to “set”—a crucial step in which bivalves pick a spot to settle down and grow up.
The veteran producer began speaking out to other growers, fishermen and resources managers. He called for investigation of changes in seawater chemistry that may soon pack the kind of wallop that nearly wiped out seed supplies for West Coast shellfish farmers in the late 2000s.
The West Coast industry managed to temporarily avert that crisis by partnering with scientists to take careful measurements and devise adaptive maneuvers. But the episode generated lessons that are rippling through the world’s seafood industry. And the underlying threat is growing. Scientists have firmly linked the Pacific Coast oyster crisis to ocean acidification, a consequence of industrial society’s swelling emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and gas. 
If similar effects are showing up in Maine, can the state meet the challenge?.
On the West Coast, the effort to detect and dodge corrosive water did more than protect growers. It revealed a gathering danger to seafood supplies, jobs, and coastal communities. It also enabled Washington state—the nation’s largest farmed shellfish producer—to launch a comprehensive effort to understand this threat and begin defending its fisheries and coastal waters from souring seawater. I’m proud to play a part in this work.
Just over a year ago shellfish growers and tribal leaders persuaded Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire to create a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, based on a proposal I drafted. Gov. Gregoire convened this bipartisan panel and tasked it to recommend strategies for the state to understand, adapt to, mitigate and remediate damage from acidification.
When the panel completed its report in November 2012, Gov. Gregoire promptly instructed state agencies to implement its recommendations. She reallocated $3.3 million in her budget to do the job, including funds for a new ocean acidification research center.
Washington’s initiative is the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last. Fishermen, growers, scientists, conservationists and coastal leaders are enlisting state governments to help understand the impacts of changing ocean chemistry and develop tactics to sustain seafood production and marine ecosystems.
Mook reckons it is time for Maine to devise its own strategy. “We need to get people who are stakeholders and experts and form some kind of group,” he says.
With its $330 million lobster industry, Maine has thousands of jobs at stake. Recent research has peeled back the impression that lobsters might be immune; preliminary findings in Maine and Nova Scotia show reduced growth and delayed development in high-CO2 water. Meanwhile Maine’s clam industry faces both an invasion of destructive green crabs and acidification that weakens shells, making the mollusks more vulnerable to predators.
As Maine considers its options, one lesoson from the West Coast can save a lot of trouble and money: “Turn on the lights.” That’s how Mark Wiegardt of Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Shellfish hatchery described the results when scientists from Oregon State University helped his team to measure and document effects of souring water on fresh-spawned larvae. “We wouldn’t be in business without it,” he says. One effective tactic: hatchery managers pump in seawater during sunny afternoons. By that time of day, the monitoring data show the water is “sweeter.” Whiskey Creek managers think that sun-loving seagrass near their intake soaks up enough CO2 to protect vulnerable larvae
To fix trouble, you need to see it. That’s why in Maine, my program is supporting research to help validate preliminary findings on acidification impacts on lobsters and clams. We hope these efforts can help Maine’s industry and policy leaders stave off future harm.