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Florida Turns Attention to Ocean Acidification

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Florida is famous for its beaches—it has more coastline than any other state in the Lower 48. And beyond all that sand lies an ocean wonderland of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and thriving fisheries. The state’s offshore attractions are nearly as iconic as its sunny weather, and that is why Florida leaders from a variety of sectors are working together to prepare for a changing ocean.

Last week, Ocean Conservancy and Mote Marine Laboratory teamed up to host a roundtable on ocean acidification (OA) in Florida. The goal of the day was to bring OA out of research circles and into the public space, by convening scientists, elected officials, journalists, industry and environmental organization representatives, and local resource managers to discuss knowns and unknowns. It’s part of a groundswell of attention to OA happening now in Florida.

We know that ocean acidification is happening now in Florida’s waters. Not only is ocean acidification making coral reefs in the northern Florida Keys dissolve in the winter more than they grow, but it is also changing the ways that coral diseases affect reefs. We don’t know whether sponges that naturally bioerode corals will win or lose in an acidified ocean, and how the high carbon dioxide levels that drive ocean acidification will affect Florida’s carbonate bedrock and aquifers.

We also don’t know how ocean acidification will impact Florida’s unique environments and ongoing restoration efforts. Even though OA is adding on to other stressors like warming, coral disease, and coastal development, activities that are already underway provide hope. For example, cutting fertilizer and sewage waste in Tampa Bay helped seagrass recover, which may in fact fight OA. Also, coral restoration may help stressed populations rebound.

The roundtable is part of a growing wave of interest in OA in Florida. Lunchtime keynote speaker Rep. Holly Raschein (R-120), a perennial champion of healthy oceans in Florida’s legislature, remarked on the need to transfer knowledge about OA to policy makers and the public, using activities like this roundtable. Three Florida U.S. House members (Buchanan, R-FL 16; Curbelo, R-FL-26; and Crenshaw, R-FL 4) co-sponsored the bipartisan Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (HR 2553), joined by eight more Florida representatives (Hastings, D-FL 20; Murphy, D-FL 18; Nugent, R- FL 11; Rooney, R-FL 17; Ross, R-FL 15; Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL 27; Jolly, R-FL 13; and Castor, D-FL 14) in support. The act directs NOAA to study how ocean acidification could affect people in coastal communities through changing job opportunities, identify dangers to communities that rely on ocean-based economies, and find possible solutions to mitigate ocean acidification’s threats.

This recent progress on OA in Florida at the state and federal levels shows how important healthy ocean ecosystems are to Floridians. Ocean Conservancy is grateful to our partners, Mote Marine Laboratory, for helping host this roundtable for a stimulating day that will certainly lead to more action in the future. Last week’s roundtable was one more big step in bringing OA research to bear on the questions and concerns of coastal users.

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