Last week, I was invited by Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Environment Subcommittee, to testify before Congress on the urgency of acting to protect coastal communities from the continued negative impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. I’m pleased to report that the leadership of the Environment Subcommittee is united in acknowledging that climate change is happening and is interested to explore how federal investments in research and development can help us find solutions that both parties can agree on.
Addressing the impacts of ocean acidification is a particular passion of mine. It may sound complicated, but even elementary school classes I’ve visited understand—if you add carbon emissions to seawater, the ocean turns more acidic.
I have been studying the impacts of ocean acidification for more than a decade, and this fact is shocking: ocean acidity has increased 30% since the Industrial Revolution. This rate of change surpasses all ocean chemistry changes in the past 50 million years. Living in an acidifying ocean is challenging for corals, oysters, lobsters and other shell-building animals. And we need our shell-builders!
Shell-building animals need a lot of energy to build their shells, but as the ocean absorbs more and more carbon dioxide, they have to spend that energy on dealing with these acidified conditions instead of growing, building shells or reproducing. Slower growing animals that build their shells later can be more vulnerable to predators and disease.
All of this means that shellfish could become even more of a luxury item for us—and harder to come by for hungry ocean wildlife. These consequences would cascade through the entire ocean ecosystem and our communities that rely on it. Our shell-builders help create habitat for other sea creatures, protect our shorelines and support the coastal economies and the livelihoods of so many families. But there are solutions!
While we are beginning to see coordinated, ocean-focused action on climate change occurring at the local, regional and even international levels—there is much more work to be done at the federal level to help our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.
Federal research funding can help deepen our scientific understanding of this problem and enable us to respond in order to protect thousands of jobs. Impacts of ocean change on communities across the country, both on the coast and inland, were of particular interest for the Environment Subcommittee when I testified last week. For example, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) both mentioned legislation—such as the COAST Research Act and the NEAR Act—on ocean acidification that would expand our knowledge of ocean acidification in estuarine environments and its effects on coastal communities.
We must not shy away from the opportunity to continue American leadership on ocean science and technology, combining that history of excellence with a forward-looking vision to steward the main resource that makes life on Earth possible: our ocean.