Since the beginning of the industrial
revolution, the global ocean has absorbed a third of the carbon dioxide
emissions from fossil fuels, transforming it into carbonic acid. The acidity of
the marine environment has increased by roughly
a third since 1750, changing chemical processes
vital to life, including shell and coral formation
and the growth of bony structures in fish. This
massive change in ocean chemistry is a growing
water quality problem that focuses attention on
the surprisingly difficult business of determining
whether and how a particular water quality standard has been violated. Such attention brings with
it a larger question of whether water quality criteria
are legally sufficient under the CWA if they are difficult or impossible to test as a practical matter, and
highlights the changing role of the act as it is used
to combat a new class of water pollution.
The world's oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide at an unprecedented rate and the resulting acidification is transforming marine ecosystems. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how ocean acidification is already affecting oysters and other shellfish in the U.S.
This state can’t afford to wait for decisive action by federal and global leaders on the pressing problem of climate change.
One of the most compelling cases in point is the growing evidence that ocean acidification is raising havoc with the marine ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, including Puget Sound.
Last week, a panel of scientists and policymakers appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a sweeping set of recommendations to combat ocean acidification.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker is considering an industrial carbon tax to curb carbon dioxide emissions in Washington and to deal with the increasing acidity of the state's waters.
One of the first and most frequent rebuttals to environmental concerns is based on finances: Can we afford the solutions? Therefore, we'll begin this discussion of ocean acidification — admittedly a complex and still murky issue — by focusing on the financial aspects.
Washington state leads the nation in production of farmed shellfish, providing 85 percent of sales on the west coast, including Alaska. The shellfish industry contributes $270 million annually to our state's economy and supports 3,200 jobs. It also contributes to tourism, as you know if you've ever dug razor clams on the coast. The impact of rising levels of acid in the ocean was dramatically illustrated between 2005 and 2009 with massive loss of oyster larvae in Northwest hatcheries, including the 2005 failure of larvae at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchers on Netarts Bay near Tillamook, Ore.
The good news is that Washington state also leads the nation in research and advocacy on this issue, evidenced by Tuesday's report from a panel of experts and stakeholders appointed 10 months ago by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The first of its kind at such a high level of state governance, the report includes 42 wide-ranging recommendations. Those include specifics such as increasing seaweed farming to remove carbon dioxide from ocean waters, and generalities such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.