United States Department of Agriculture

Broad Overview of and Rationale for Ocean Acidification Work

Although the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has few programs or projects that directly address ocean acidification, USDA, in its partnerships with other Federal agencies as a member of the National Ocean Council, supports continuing efforts that address recommendations made by the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes Task Force. By promoting and implementing sustainable agricultural programs and practices on land and sustainable aquaculture practices in freshwater and saltwater environments, USDA programs will improve the health of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes as well as provide jobs important in the revitalization of our rural and coastal communities.

Water connects farms across the United States to coastal communities and the ocean. USDA conducts and funds research, technology transfer, and extension education programs that address issues related to climate change, nutrient runoff, carbon sequestration, marine and freshwater aquaculture, and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfur compounds. These programs directly or indirectly address ocean acidification and improve resilience to ocean acidification by helping to invigorate coastal economies, strengthen national food security, and improve the health of the atmosphere, water resources, and ocean.

USDA’s research, technology transfer, extension, outreach, and education programs aimed at the food production industry address issues related to ocean acidification, climate change, water quality, and agriculture and aquaculture production methods. USDA has several programs aimed at the reduction of nutrients going into United States waterways and the atmosphere and eventually ending up in the ocean. Nutrient runoff provides essential nutrients effecting primary productivity in estuarine, ocean, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Excess nutrients produce zones in the ocean that are both hypoxic and acidified, such as those seen in the Gulf of Mexico. USDA also has programs that focus on reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses by the production of agriculture-based biofuels from woody biomass and algae. These programs reduce reliance upon fossil fuels that would otherwise increase atmospheric CO2 and other indirect effects on ocean acidification. USDA will continue its involvement in strategic partnerships with a variety of stakeholders that will address and support programs for reducing nutrient and sediment loads, the adoption of conservation efforts on public and private lands, and monitoring programs that will determine and evaluate the efficacy of these programs to reduce nutrients loads in United States waterways and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

On-going Projects Related to Ocean Acidification

Many agencies within USDA fund programs and conduct projects that do not directly target ocean acidification, but help reduce its primary causes. These programs and projects are implemented primarily by farmers in the United States and include air and water quality programs and other soil- and water-conservation efforts.

USDA has major programs related to emissions of the atmospheric gases that cause to ocean acidification (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides). The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Air Quality Program focuses on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Water Program is aimed at the reduction of nutrients going into the Nation’s waterways. Other farm- management programs can increase carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems and aid in the preparation of United States agriculture and forests to adapt to variable climates. The USDA Agricultural Research Service has an in-house soil and air research program that works to develop tools and improved management in order to increase soil conservation and reduce runoff and leaching. Effort through this program reduces impact on ground and surface waters and helps reduce atmospheric and land-based deposition of CO2 and nitrous oxides into the oceans. Efforts such as the Long Term Agroecosystem Research project of the USDA Agricultural Research Service are seeking to develop new approaches to agricultural production that minimize impacts in the region and downstream.

USDA also funds and implements aquaculture-related research, education for students and practitioners, and technology transfer programs. Within these programs, USDA has funded projects on the effects of reduced pH on sea urchin larvae and adults and the development of emerging genomics tools (custom microarrays and quantitative polymerase chain reaction) to assess whether sea urchins can tolerate and thrive under the environmental conditions expected with climate change and ocean acidification. USDA has also funded research on the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on diseases impacting the oyster aquaculture industry. This research includes studies of the diseases caused by the parasite Haplosporidium nelsoni on the East coast of the United States and the bacterium Vibrio tubiashii on the West coast of the United States. USDA also conducts genetics and genomics research on commercially important shellfish species and develops improved commercial lines of oysters that are resistant to changing environmental conditions, such as reduced pH resulting from ocean acidification, and diseases.

USDA is involved in strategic interagency partnerships for monitoring, modeling, and assessment of water quality in priority watersheds such as the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative. The purpose of these partnerships is to better evaluate the efficacy of land treatment practices for nutrient and sediment reduction.

Near-future Activities Related to Ocean Acidification (Planned within the Next 2 Years)

USDA will continue to direct research, education, and extension funding and programs that address ocean acidification in the broader context. Addressing carbon dioxide emissions is included in the USDA  climate change portfolio, and the many programs focused on this topical area will continue. USDA programs aimed at reducing nutrient runoff into United States waterways will also continue.

Untapped Opportunities Inside of Agency for Projects Related to Ocean Acidification

In the past, USDA has few funded projects that specifically address ocean acidification. Most of these projects were research on the effects of lowered pH on important commercial aquaculture species, including bivalve shellfish, echinoderms (sea urchins), larval marine finfish, and shrimp. The commercial aquaculture industry is becoming increasingly concerned about changes in the habitat of these species, including changes in water chemistry brought about by ocean acidification, and the impacts of these changes on their industry. USDA could consider projects that benefit the commercial aquaculture industry by addressing these changes in habitat.

Ideas for How Agency Could Work with Other Federal Agencies on Activities Related to Ocean Acidification

USDA and the US aquaculture industry have a significant stake in the ocean acidification issue. The IWG- OA and the IWG-A will work together on issues of common concern relating to ocean acidification.

USDA-funded Cooperative Extension natural resource and aquaculture field agents work closely with Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service partners to provide science-based information on climate change and ocean acidification and their effects to the aquaculture industry and to coastal communities in the United States. Workshops have been conducted in Maine, Delaware, Louisiana, and other United States coastal and Great Lakes communities to educate residents about sea level rise, ocean acidification, and other effects of climate change on the ocean.

Through workshops, on-farm extension programs, and the eXtension initiative available on the Internet, USDA shares information on the results of research on new technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient runoff and on programs to reduce atmospheric CO2 and runoff of nutrients into United States waterways.