New England Takes on Ocean Pollution State By State

By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, March 30, 2015

Portland, Maine — A group of state legislators in New England want to form a multi-state pact to counter increasing ocean acidity along the East Coast, a problem they believe will endanger multi-million dollar fishing industries if left unchecked.

The legislators’ effort faces numerous hurdles: They are in the early stages of fostering cooperation between many layers of government, hope to push for potentially expensive research and mitigation projects, and want to use state laws to tackle a problem scientists say is the product of global environmental trends.

But the legislators believe they can gain a bigger voice at the federal and international levels by banding together, said Mick Devin, a Maine representative who has advocated for ocean research in his home state. The states can also push for research to determine the impact that local factors such as nutrient loading and fertilizer runoff have on ocean acidification and advocate for new controls, he said.

“We don’t have a magic bullet to reverse the effects of ocean acidification and stop the world from pumping out so much carbon dioxide,” Devin said. “But there are things we can do locally.”

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says the growing acidity of worldwide oceans is tied to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and they attribute the growth to fossil fuel burning and land use changes. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased from 280 parts per million to over 394 parts per million over the past 250 years, according to NOAA.

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, and when it mixes with seawater it reduces the availability of carbonate ions, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said. Those ions are critical for marine life such as shellfish, coral and plankton to grow their shells.

The changing ocean chemistry can have “potentially devastating ramifications for all ocean life,” including key commercial species, according to NOAA.

The New England states are following a model set by Maine, which commissioned a panel to spend months studying scientific research about ocean acidification and its potential impacts on coastal industries. Legislators in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are working on bills to create similar panels. A similar bill was shot down in committee in the New Hampshire legislature but will likely be back in 2016, said Rep. David Borden, who sponsored the bill.

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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

How to Battle Ocean Acidification

June 16th, By John Upton, Pacific Standard (psmag.com)

It’s a fearsome problem. But we’re not just watching helplessly.

Shellfish are dying by the boatload, their tiny homes burned from their flesh by acid. Billions of farmed specimens have already succumbed to the problem, which is caused when carbon dioxide dissolves and reacts with water, producing carbonic acid.

When ocean life starts to resemble battery gizzards, how can humans possibly respond?

Immediately curbing the global fossil fuel appetite and allowing carbon dioxide-drinking forests to regrow would be obvious steps. But they wouldn’t be enough. Oceanic pH levels are already 0.1 lower on average than before the Industrial Revolution, and they will continue to decline as our carbon dioxide pollution lingersand balloons.

In a recent BioScience paper, researchers from coastal American states summarized what we know about ocean acidification, and described some possible remedies.

Chart: Bioscience

Chart: Bioscience

As John Kerry kicks off two days of ocean acidification workshops, here’s our summary of the scientists’ overview:

WHAT WE KNOW

  • Acid rain can affect ocean pH, but only fleetingly, especially when compared with the effects of carbon dioxide pollution.
  • Studies of naturally acidified waters, like those near CO2 vents, suggest that acidification will depress species diversity; algae will continue to take over.
  • Farm runoff and fossil fuel pollution can worsen the problem in coastal areas. The nitrogen-rich pollution fertilizes algae. That initially reduces CO2 levels, but the plankton is eaten after it dies by CO2-exhaling bacteria. This type of pollution appears to be worsening the acidification of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Strong upwelling, in which winds churn over the ocean and bring nutrients and dissolved carbon dioxide up from the depths, exacerbate local acidity levels in some regions. In the upwell-affected Pacific Northwest, climate change appears to be leading to stronger upwelling.
  • Shellfish are “highly vulnerable” to ocean acidification. Some marine plants may benefit. Fish could suffer from neurological changes that affect their behavior. Coral reefs are also being damaged.
  • Declining mollusk farm production could cost the world more than $100 billion by 2100.
  • Marine plants can help buffer rising acidity. Floridian seagrass meadows appear to be protecting nearby coral.

WHAT’S BEING DONE

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created an ocean acidification program in 2012. It’s monitoring impacts, coordinating education programs, and developing adaptation strategies.
  • American experts are talking less these days about ocean acidification as a universal problem, and becoming more focused on local and regional solutions.
  • Alaska, Maine, Washington, California, and Oregon have initiated studies and working groups.

WHAT MORE COULD BE DONE

  • The EPA could enforce the Clean Water Act to protect waterways from pollution that causes acidification.
  • Other coastal states could model new working groups on the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel, which helped form the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.
  • Incorporate ocean acidification threats into states’ coastal zone management plans.
  • Expand the network of monitors that measure acidity levels, providing researchers and shellfish farmers with real-time and long-term pH data.
  • Expand marine protections to reduce overfishing and improve biodiversity, which can allow wildlife to evolve natural defenses.

Source: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/nature-and-technology/how-battle-ocean-acidification-83489/

Gulf of Maine Uniquely Susceptible to Ocean Acidification

The Working Waterfont, May 21, 2014. By Heather Deese and Susie Arnold

A recent study led by Aleck Wang, a chemical oceanographer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has identified the Gulf of Maine as outstanding in an unfortunate way—more susceptible to pressures of ocean acidification than any other region along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico.

oysters, maine.Ocean acidification may not be a familiar term for many, but it is a critically important aspect of ocean chemistry for all of us to understand.

Ocean acidification is the changing chemistry of seawater caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2). As CO2 is absorbed into seawater, the resulting reactions decrease the availability of carbonate ions, which are critical building blocks for forming the shells and skeletons of many marine organisms. The process also increases the number of hydrogen ions, which leads to lower pH and greater acidity. Toxic chemicals from storm water, industrial pollution and other runoff that flows into the ocean also can contribute to acidification of coastal waters.

Wang and his colleagues think the Gulf of Maine’s susceptibility may be due to a few different factors. Fresh and cold water holds more CO2, and the Gulf of Maine has a lot of colder and fresher water coming in from the Labrador Current, in addition to a large proportion of fresh water from rivers. Also, the semi-enclosed shape of the Gulf tends to hold this more acidic water.

Around the same time this study came out, researchers in Alaska published disturbing results on the impacts of ocean acidification on Red King Crab and Tanner crabs. Their laboratory studies showed decreased survival and growth in low pH water in both species and 100 percent mortality of Red King Crab larvae after 95 days in acidification scenarios predicted for the end of this century.

A few months later, a scallop aquaculture operation in British Colombia appeared to become the latest commercial victim of ocean acidification with a massive die-off.

Oyster aquaculturists on the West Coast have been responding to die-offs for nearly ten years and within the last several years their onsite pH monitoring has confirmed the link to acidification. Upwelling conditions in the Pacific Northwest, which bring cold water to the surface, tend to have lower pH than surface water. The pH of this water has decreased further in recent decades due to increasing atmospheric CO2 and pollutants that run from the land into the ocean.

Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, who also is a marine biologist at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, has been concerned about the vulnerability of Maine’s marine ecosystems and fisheries-dependent communities to this unfolding threat. Last fall, he proposed LD 1602, which would establish a commission to study the effects of coastal and ocean acidification on species that are commercially harvested and grown along the Maine coast.

Thanks to support from diverse interest groups, including fishing and aquaculture industries, coastal community members, environmental groups, state agencies and others, the bill became law April 30.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how changing chemistry will impact the various life stages of most marine organisms, particularly a lot of commercially important species. For example, there is still very little known about the possible impacts on lobsters.

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Update of Fisheries Law Pits West Coast Against East Coast

Two recent articles have come out based on a paper co-written with one of our board members, Suzanne Iudicello, and our Director, Brad Warren. This is the second article.

Seattle Times. May 10th, 2014. By Kyung M. Song

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was enacted in 1976 to protect fisheries collapsing from overfishing and poaching by foreign trawlers. But the upcoming fourth reauthorization of the main federal fisheries law has split American fishing factions by coastlines.

WASHINGTON — The nation’s chief fisheries law was enacted in 1976 in a climate of alarm: the oceans were losing fish faster than they could reproduce, and most of the diminishing harvests were being scooped up by an armada of Soviet and Japanese factory trawlers.

In response, Congress passed the legislation now commonly called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It asserted exclusive American fishing rights out to 200 miles from shore. It also entrusted the federal government to protect Alaska pollock, Atlantic haddock and hundreds of other stocks from overfishing and to guard the water’s bounty for perpetuity.

Today, the fight to ensure sustainable fisheries has turned entirely domestic.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act expired last September. Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee and Democrats in the Senate Commerce Committee have released separate bills to update the 2006 reauthorization.

The dueling drafts have split fishing factions by coastlines. Bering Sea crabbers and West Coast commercial groundfish harvesters, for instance, want the law’s conservation measures left largely intact.

But some of their counterparts in New England and the Gulf of Mexico are demanding key changes. The collapse or overexploitation of such iconic stocks as cod and red snapper have battered their livelihoods and curtailed sport fishing, and the fishermen want more elastic mandates on overfishing and on rebuilding depleted fish populations.

Meanwhile, recreational anglers, a sizable economic force, are pressing harder than ever to amend the law to secure longer, predictable fishing seasons and permission to hook bigger trophy fish.

The schism has hardened despite — or because of — the fact that U.S. fisheries on the whole are rebounding from catastrophic overfishing that pushed some species to possible extinction.

In 2006, “overfishing was so endemic everyone realized we needed to take measurable steps,” said George Geiger, former chairman the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils responsible for overseeing the law.

“There is much more acrimony associated with this reauthorization.”

High stakes

The heightened tension reflects high stakes. Commercial fishermen hauled in $5.1 billion worth of fin fish and shellfish in 2012, the latest economic data available. That in turn generated another $34 billion in income for processors, wholesalers and all who touch the seafood on its journey to the table.

In Washington, the seafood industry supports 61,000 jobs, fourth-highest behind California, Massachusetts and Florida, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Seattle is home to major seafood processors and most of the Alaska crabbing fleet.

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East Coast’s First Ocean Acidification Bill Becomes Law

Maine Legislature Press Release April 30th, 2014

AUGUSTA – The East Coast’s first measure to address the threat of ocean acidification became law Wednesday.

“Maine is taking the lead on ocean acidification on the Eastern seaboard. We understand just how dangerous it is to our marine environment, jobs and way of life,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, the bill’s sponsor and a marine biologist. “We will address this threat head-on and find ways to protect our marine resources and economies.”

LD 1602 became law without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage. It went into effect immediately.

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.

“We who work on the ocean observe the day to day effects of small changes in climate and the destruction caused by such things as ocean acidification,” said Richard Nelson, a fisherman from Friendship. “We are solely dependent on a resource that must be managed intelligently and effectively in order for it to remain healthy and available to us.”

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.

“We’re glad to see Maine leading on this issue,” said Rob Snyder, president of the Island Institute, which helped draft the legislation. “The industries that will be affected by ocean acidification employ thousands of Mainers – especially in island and coastal communities – and they contribute $1 billion to our state’s economy. It’s critical to learn more about the solutions to ocean acidification that will protect those jobs.”

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.

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.

Read more here

How Ocean Acidification Impacts Lobster Larvae

Maine School of Marine Sciences, by Ian Jones, April 15th 2014

Third-year marine sciences major  Ian Jones of Canton, Conn., is studying how ocean acidification impacts lobster larvae, an important resource for the Maine economy.

Jones works with American lobsters raised at UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Center (ARC). The lobster larvae were raised last summer at various pH levels, replicating natural environments and the impact of ocean acidification. Jones weighed and photographed approximately 700 lobster larvae to monitor their growth in these different environments. The hypothesis: slower growth and more irregular development occur at lower pH. This creates adaptation problems for lobsters dealing with increased environmental CO2 levels.

“We will certainly see greater ocean acidification in the future as an effect of climate change. As atmospheric levels of CO2 continue to increase from human input, so do the CO­2 levels of the upper ocean,” says Jones.

Along with lobster larvae, Jones also monitored seahorses in Tim Bowden’s lab. The seahorses, which were dealing with a mycobacterial infection, were in the care of Jones while an antibiotic treatment was created. He also raised juvenile seahorses last year. Through this experience, Jones learned about seahorse aquaculture, proper feeding protocols, tank chemistry and more.

“Not much is known about seahorse aquaculture relative to raising other fish, so although information on raising newborns was limited, it was a fun challenge figuring out our own system that worked.”

This fall, Jones will travel to the Darling Marine Center on the Damariscotta River, where he and other UMaine students will further the hands-on work they do in the classroom through the Semester By the Sea program.

Jones plans to attend graduate school to study sensory biology and/or the effect of climate change on marine animals.

Why is your lobster research important? Research on American lobster growth at lowered pH is incredibly important first, because there has been little climate change study on this particular species and second, any slowing or other adverse effects on lobster growth could have serious impacts on the health of the lobster fishery, which Maine, of course, greatly depends on. Delayed lobster larvae development means it will take longer for lobsters to get to market size, and predation risk may increase as well, causing fewer individuals to grow into adults and lowering the overall abundance of adult lobsters. Changes in lobster abundance can in turn upset ecosystem balance by changing the abundance of organisms that depend on lobster as prey and organisms lobsters prey on. These trophic cascades have the power to reduce the presence of many species in addition to just the lobster, consequently reducing biodiversity.

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Ocean acidification bill supporters make case to Maine Legislature.

By Ronald Huber | Jan 13, 2014 The Republican Journal

It was standing room only at the Maine Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee as supporters of  LD 1602  the “Save Our Shellfish” bill, made their case for appointing of a coastwide multisector  committee to study how to reduce the impact of oceanic acidification on Maine species and what proactively to do, fishery by fishery.

Not only were clammers, shellfish farmers and the scientific community evident, The groundfish industry called for the scope to be broadened to consider all Maine marine species from plankton up. A wastewater management too was represented, and a wide spectrum of Maine ENGOs weighed in as well.

The bill’s full title is Resolve, Establishing the Commission To Study the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Its Potential Effects on Commercial Shellfish Harvested and Grown along the Maine Coast

In addition to  bill sponsor Mick Devin, and DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher,  fifteen members of the public and interest groups testified.

Senator Chris Johnson, committee co-chair, gave the introduction to the public hearing (mp3)

Representative Mick Devin Sponsor laid out the case for LD 1602 spending time money and energy getting up to speed on the impact acidification is having on maine marine and estuarine species.

DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher followed, calling for achievable outcomes, not only another report – bottom line is produce something that will help Maine. (3minutes)

Suzy Arnold of Island Institute spoke next. She noted that the pH of some  Gulf of Maine waters is 30% lower than it was (4min 9sec). If our blood went that that much lower we’d be in a coma, Arnold said. The increased acidity is dissolving shells of baby shellfish. Critical prey like zooplankton are affected too. Crabs seem  okay but have thicker shells and slower growth.  The California rockfish and other fish  exhibit confusion & anxiety when acidified on the west coast.

Arnold said that compared to bivalves, nothing known about lobster acidification. This must be a priority. She said Seagrant & Cooperative extension agreed. She noted that there will be a daylong meeting Thursday in Augusta to ID priorities, and that all are welcome.

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