Workshop Offers Look at Grays Harbor of the Future

The Daily World, April 10th, 2014. By Brionna Friedrich

A workshop Tuesday on ocean acidification and rising sea levels offered a peek into Grays Harbor’s potential future, and aimed to start a conversation about turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities.

Brad Warren, director of Global Ocean Health, said he hopes to change the way people think about climate change.

“The language is loss, ‘We’re going to lose this much land,’ ” Warren said. “Well, if you look at this from the ocean point of view, which is where a fair number of people around here make a living, there’s going to be a fair number of opportunities there.”

That change may prove to be a challenge of its own. About 30 people attended the workshop, mostly agency officials joined by a few interested residents and local policymakers. Nearly all had ideas, concerns and questions about climate change, but few were ready to focus on the suggestion of creating new industries, like harvesting underwater plants.

“It’s a beginning. And that’s probably enough,” Warren said. “It will be really interesting to come back and track this conversation as it matures over time. I think it’s really clear that people are ready to think hard about sea level rise, and that’s pretty complicated by itself. And there’s a lot of resistance to thinking about how it interacts with another complicated process” like ocean acidification.

Todd Sandell of the Wild Fish Conservancy offered one tool in increasing that understanding locally. He and Andrew McAninch were initially only researching data on juvenile salmon habitat in the Grays Harbor area.

“It became rapidly apparent … that the elephant in the room that people weren’t really talking about is sea level rise,” Sandell said. “That’s going to undermine a lot of the work that’s been done over past decades, putting in tide gates and things like that.”

In 2012, the conservancy used lidar data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a better model of what climate change could look like on the Harbor.

Sandell and McAninch modeled out to 2100. Compared to Grays Harbor in 1981, when modeling started, the 2100 Grays Harbor will lose 83 percent of its mud flats, have 2.4 times the salt marsh and six times as much irregularly flooded marsh area. Traditional marsh will be 26 times larger.

Forested swamp land showed a 97 percent reduction as a result of sea level rise, Sandell said. Goose and Sand islands would be completely underwater.

Sandell said as salt water penetrates deeper and deeper into the Harbor and into the sloughs, trees may die because they can’t tolerate the salinity. That may lead to further collapse during flooding.

In Willapa Harbor, Sandell said the numerous dikes might lead to good habitats for various sea creatures that like shallow water for about 25 years. After that, he said, the dikes will create more problems than they solve.

“That’s one of the reasons you can’t just build a bunch of dikes and say, ‘We won’t move an inch,’ ” Sandell said. “I wouldn’t want to fight the ocean that much.”

One of the challenges in getting a clear picture of what the Twin Harbors might look like with rising oceans is limited by data. Scientists don’t have a clear picture of what the underwater landscape looks like.

Sandell said the model they used has a vertical error of one to three meters, meaning the elevations they used for their modeling could have some significant variation from where the ground actually is. That translates to some potentially significant differences in the horizontal borders they project. Still, it’s a significant improvement in accuracy over previous models.

Getting clearer and clearer pictures of what’s happening to the habitat around us is the only way we’ll ever start to cope with the many and varied impacts of climate change, Warren said.

“I thought a really important thing somebody brought up today is that the perception of urgency is not really there, around either sea level rise or ocean acidification,” Warren said. “In order to get county governments to address this issue, when they can’t see their own interests at risk now, it’s a really important challenge. I would argue that the challenge there is not that there is no change affecting their interests, nor that that change is not urgent. It’s that we don’t have the observing systems in place to be able to see what’s happening to us.”

Coastline changes may actually present more opportunity for burying carbon.

About 0.5 percent of ocean area roughly matches the carbon absorption of all the world’s forests. Salt marsh buries 10 times as much carbon per acre every year than a Brazilian rainforest, Warren said.

In Asia, harvesting underwater plants that thrive in acidic water is already a $7 billion per year industry, cleaning the water at the same time.

With better information, policy makers will be able to take advantage of opportunities like that, using better planning for coastlines and flood plains.

“People are really intelligent when they can see what’s happening to them. We’re not very intelligent when we can’t see,” he added.

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Workshop Takes a Practical, Proactive Look at Ocean Acidification

The Daily World, April 5th, 2014. By Brionna Friedrich

The frightening impacts of a changing climate are sometimes unavoidable, but an upcoming workshop takes a proactive look at how to cope with changing coastlines and ocean chemistry.

“If we can snatch opportunity out of the jaws of climate change, we’ll be doing a smart thing,” said Eric Swenson, communications and outreach director of Global Ocean Health. “That’s a real message I hope resonates and people can act on. Can we benefit from the coming circumstances?”

The non-profit initiative focuses on the impacts of ocean acidification, the absorption of carbon dioxide into ocean waters, which is already impacting local industries like shellfish growers.

It specifically works with seafood producers and coastal communities on options for adaptation.

The free workshop, set for Tuesday in the Rotary Log Pavilion in Aberdeen, will connect climate change and ocean acidification experts with local and regional policymakers and the general public.

The morning session, from 9 a.m. to noon, will feature speakers on changing aquaculture and how marine plants and grasses can help absorb CO2.

Stephen Crooks, climate change program director for Environmental Services Associates, has recently briefed the White House and the United Nations on the impacts of estuary restoration, Swenson said. “Now he’ll be doing a briefing for the Washington coast in Aberdeen,” he said. “We’ve got some actual world-class folks on the agenda.”

Marine and coastal vegetation provides opportunities, from contributions to overall estuary health to a possible commercial enterprise, harvesting food and biofuel.

“This isn’t pie-in-the-sky, people are doing this and making money at it in Asia,” Swenson said.

It could also provide a tool for shellfish farmers. Acidic ocean waters can decimate delicate oyster larvae.

“If you can just move the meter a point or two in some key areas, it’s the difference between life and death,” Swenson said.

“There’s a fair amount of research that shows that when shellfish and seagrasses co-exist — the right kind of seagrasses — it’s to the benefit of both,” he continued.

“We will be looking at how plants sequester the carbon. The salt marsh plants, for instance, do a job that’s about five times as effective as a tropical forest, so photosynthesis can really be made to work for us.”

A free lunch will be offered before the afternoon session, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., which will discuss local planning and policy processes that can help in preparation for a changing coastline.

“We’re bringing (ocean acidificaton) into a wider context of what the coast is going to look at in 20, 30 or 40 or more years, and it’s going to be very different than what it is now,” Swenson said. “By trying to consider what the coastline is going to look like with the higher sea, we may be able to shelter shellfish, we may be able to protect our estuaries, which are such nurseries for a variety of sea life.”

“If we learn to plan for it well, sea level rise might be more than just a problem — which it certainly will be — but an opportunity,” Global Ocean Health Director Brad Warren wrote in a press release. “Higher water will make more room for estuarine ecosystems that can sometimes chemically shelter vulnerable larvae from corrosive waters. It won’t be a smooth transition, but sea level rise may open up new areas for farming shellfish and marketable marine macroalgae. It will increase coastal habitats that support hunting and fishing and expand the nursery grounds that support most of the world’s seafood supply.”

Some basic understanding of ocean acidification will help for those who attend the workshop, Swenson said, but scientific expertise isn’t a requirement.

“I think people who have at least a fundamental grasp of what we’re talking about will be better served by the meeting, but it is designed to be open to the public, free of charge, with that free lunch included, in an attempt to draw in people who want to learn more about this,” Swenson said.

The Rotary Log Pavilion is located at 1401 Sargent Blvd. in Aberdeen. No registration is required for the workshop.

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