The official mission of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) within the Department of the Interior is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The FWS is responsible for managing or co- managing 4 marine national monuments and 180 coastal wildlife refuges, including 118 designated marine protected areas. Ocean acidification will likely impact all of these monuments, refuges, and protected areas to some degree. It is important that the FWS understand the effects of ocean acidification on trust species (migratory birds, species listed under the Endangered Species Act, inter- jurisdiction fishes, marine mammals) as well as entire ecosystems.
A large portion of the FWS contribution to addressing ocean acidification consists of its management policies that contribute to locally healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems are thought to be more resilient to ocean acidification. FWS management policies include setting aside coastal areas as wildlife refuges with restricted use policies in place; these policies protect ecosystems from stressors such as over fishing and harvesting, excessive recreational uses, and the effects of industrial activities. Preserving the ecological integrity of coastal and ocean ecosystems through restoration and management can increase the buffering capacity of seawater in these ecosystems, thus protecting them against the chemical changes that result in acidification.
Through Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and in collaboration with many partners, including USGS and other Federal agencies, states, tribes, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and other public and private institutions, the FWS works to develop science-based conservation objectives and strategies, some of which address ocean acidification. For example, the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative has funded two ocean acidification related projects. FWS is also engaging in global modeling to show the relationship between projected coral bleaching and ocean acidification, information which should support economic and coastal planning and coral reef management.
The Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program within FWS provides grant funding for long-term conservation of coastal wetland ecosystems by helping states and territories to protect, restore, and enhance coastal habitats. Projects funded include the acquisition of real property interest in coastal lands or waters and the restoration, enhancement, or management of coastal wetlands ecosystems, both of which contribute to ecosystem health and, thus, resilience to ocean acidification.
Partners for Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Program are the FWS’s voluntary, citizen- and community- based stewardship programs that work with private landowners, government agencies, tribes, and other conservation partners to support Federal, tribal, state, and local habitat conservation strategies and on- the-ground habitat restoration projects. These landscape-level collaborative efforts help mitigate the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. Over the past two years, Partners for Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Program have restored nearly 130,000 wetland acres, over 540,000 upland acres, and over 1,100 stream miles. Restoration of these landscapes decreases the effects of climate change and ocean acidification by increasing ecosystem health.
The FWS National Wildlife Refuge System Inventory and Monitoring Initiative, which assesses the status and trends of refuge lands, waters, plants, and wildlife and their responses to management actions, will continue to be developed. This initiative includes a suite of monitoring parameters throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System to assess impacts of ocean acidification on ocean species from reef building organisms to seabirds.
FWS currently collaborates with Federal agencies to monitor ocean carbon chemistry and conduct biological surveys within wildlife refuges. Although many current biological surveys are not conducted with a focus on ocean acidification, the data could be used to study how ocean acidification affects marine ecosystems.
FWS implementation of widespread monitoring of ocean carbon chemistry and the effects of changing ocean chemistry will likely be limited by the number of field personnel available for monitoring, or the cost and availability the equipment needed to monitor for ocean acidification.
Wildlife refuges can be ideal sampling locations due to restrictions on activities that may confound data collection in other areas. Marine protection strategies and techniques employed by refuges as well as biological and chemical measures can be evaluated through collaboration with other Federal agencies that are able to provide expertise and monitoring equipment. FWS personnel may be available at wildlife refuges to operate and maintain monitoring equipment provided by other agencies.