Ocean acidification is driving changes in waters vital to Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries and subsistence way of life, according to new NOAA-led research that will be published online in Progress in Oceanography.
Many of Alaska’s nutritionally and economically valuable marine fisheries are located in waters that are already experiencing ocean acidification, and will see more in the near future, the study shows. Communities in southeast and southwest Alaska face the highest risk from ocean acidification because they rely heavily on fisheries that are expected to be most affected by ocean acidification, and have underlying factors that make those communities more vulnerable, such as lower incomes and fewer employment opportunities.
Ian Enochs, a scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami, traveled in May to the Island of Maug in the Pacific Ocean as part of a NOAA expedition aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai to study coral reef ecosystems. We caught up with Enochs to learn about his research on underwater vents that seep carbon dioxide into the Pacific.
Why journey to the Island of Maug to study ocean acidification?
Maug is a unique natural laboratory that allows us to study how ocean acidification affects coral reef ecosystems. We know of no other area like this in U.S. waters. Increasing carbon dioxide in seawater is a global issue because it makes it harder for animals like corals to build skeletons
It didn’t take long for researchers examining the tiny sea snails to see something amiss.
The surface of some of their thin outer shells looked as if they had been etched by a solvent. Others were deeply pitted and pocked.
These translucent sea butterflies known as pteropods, which provide food for salmon, herring and other fish, hadn’t been burned in some horrific lab accident.
They were being eaten away by the Pacific Ocean.
For the first time, scientists have documented that souring seas caused by carbon-dioxide emissions are dissolving pteropods in the wild right now along the U.S. West Coast. That is damaging a potentially important link in the marine food web far sooner than expected.