There’s been a recent spate of good news about people dealing with the global problem of ocean acidification at the local level. Over the past month, the Maryland Ocean Acidification Task Force and Maine Ocean Acidification Commission have reported on what ocean acidification means for their states, and what each state can do to protect its local ocean. These are the first comprehensive state reports on the east coast to put forth suggested actions addressing acidification.
Both commissions included scientists, fishermen, shellfish farmers, state agencies, elected representatives and community groups who are especially concerned about their shellfish farms and wild fisheries, especially blue crabs and American lobsters. I attended the Maryland Task Force meetings too.
During the meetings over the summer, we heard of shellfish farmers in Maryland seeing lower baby oyster production levels. Even though the cause has remained a mystery, no one could rule out ocean acidification. This lower amount of oyster seed still remains unexplained, but everyone agreed that the marine resources and coastal communities of the state are too important to be left in such uncertain conditions. In fact, the Maryland report includes recommendations for increasing ocean acidification research and monitoring so the state can understand just what is happening.
I’ve met with a few of the Maine commissioners, and they’re trying to reduce the uncertainty too. This week the commission co-chair, Representative Mick Devin, emphasized why more information is needed: “It isn’t just valuable shellfisheries that are at risk, but other parts of our economy like tourism. No one visits the Maine coast looking for a chicken sandwich. Let’s make sure visitors can have a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, a bucket of steamers or a platter of Damariscotta River oysters on the half shell when they come to Maine.” Among other recommendations, the state commission emphasized the need for more research and monitoring of acidification, but this requires funding, science and collaboration with others.
While these individual states fight for their local economies and coastal cultures, they recognize that this issue is not simply a problem for a few scattered states or a region, but rather a growing concern for the whole US, and more help is needed.
I am also glad to report that the federal government is listening to these states, industry, scientists and others and has responded by recently proposing an increase in ocean acidification research and monitoring funding from $8.5 million to $30 million through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This additional funding would provide for water quality sensors, research vessel operations, scientific experiments, and allow for greater collaboration between the states, federal government, and international efforts to address acidification.
This added federal attention and increased concern is great news for Maryland, Maine, and the people who depend on the sea for their livelihoods. By increasing the knowledge of what acidification does to marine life, tracking where and when it occurs, and working with others to reduce carbon pollution and runoff pollution, these states will limit future damages to important ecosystems, economies, and cultures. We at Ocean Conservancy look forward to hearing more from these states and regions (and beyond!), because as we all know, the ocean doesn’t stop at state borders, and ocean acidification has the potential to reach all our shores.