Ocean Currents

Harnessing the Power of Partnerships to Address Ocean Acidification


Today, the X Prize Foundation will announce something truly groundbreaking: a competition, sponsored by Wendy Schmidt, to address ocean acidification. Can I tell you how excited this makes me? There are people sitting up and paying attention to acidification, to the threat it poses to the ocean, and to the people and businesses that rely on a healthy ocean, in a way that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Ocean acidification is a big deal—some say it is one of the biggest challenges we face—an ever-changing ocean as a result of carbon pollution from factories, cars and power plants being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. This means that animals like oysters, clams and mussels have trouble building the very shells needed for their survival.

So as we struggle to reduce carbon pollution, what can be done on ocean acidification? We must rely on monitoring and research to inform science and local responses.

Photo © Barbara Kinney / Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

Monitoring is critical for two reasons. It informs scientists and in turn, us, on what our future ocean may look like and what we need to do to respond, and it allows shellfish growers to stay in business by monitoring the water at their operations. If the water is too corrosive, they can take action to protect vulnerable shellfish.

Today’s X Prize announcement means that soon, more accurate and more affordable sensors will be available to scientists and businesses that need them.

Years of work by a diverse community of people who care passionately for the ocean and the people who depend on it has led up to today’s X-Prize announcement. Strange though it may sound, these partnerships and collaborative efforts are some of the reasons I love working on this issue. Diverse groups are working together and collaborating on acidification in ways that often seem to be missing from other big environmental issues.

These groups and individuals include:

  • NRDC, who has been instrumental in getting the international scientific community to coordinate efforts for acidification monitoring.
  • COMPASS, who works with scientists studying ocean acidification (and many other areas of research) ensuring that their research reaches the right audiences.
  • Brad Warren of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, who has worked with shellfish growers and fishermen for many years to sound the alarm and to get funding for monitoring and research.
  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who as former NOAA administrator worked to broaden awareness of ocean acidification among decision-makers.
  • The state leaders of Washington, Oregon and California, who last week announced a groundbreaking partnership among their three states and British Columbia to advance the science of acidification, which will inform actions that the West Coast can take to protect shellfish growers, fishermen and the environments on which they depend.
  • Shellfish growers from the East and West coasts, who are in Washington, D.C., this week to walk the halls of Congress and meet with their elected officials about ocean acidification, among other things.

All of these groups and people will have had a hand in today’s announcement, because they have all worked tirelessly for our ocean and coastal communities. Partnership, collaboration, innovation and competition is what I think of when I think of the X Prize—and what I think of when I think of how we can tackle ocean acidification.

We face a great challenge, but what gives me hope is that the response to this challenge is greater than it’s ever been.


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