June 6, 2019

Congress mulls $51.5 million to study ocean acidification’s effects on Indian River Lagoon

News Source: Florida Today

Author(s): Cheryl Smith

The U.S. House today approved four bills to study ocean acidification and its effects on coastal estuaries such as the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries.

The bills authorize $51.5 million to study the issue and identify ways to mitigate the effects on waterways, including such rivers as the St. Lucie, Sebastian and Eau Gallie.

The simplest explanation of this complex problem is, excess carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels traps more heat in the environment and changes the climate, according to the National Research Council of The National Academies.

“The ocean has become nearly 30 percent more acidic than it was at the beginning of the industrial era — a change larger and more rapid than seen in the fossil record going back at least 800,000 years,” the council wrote in a 2013 report.

"Scientists estimate that one-third of all the carbon dioxide produced by human activities has been absorbed by the ocean … (which) undoubtedly helped curb the extent of climate change — but this benefit has come at a cost.”

The report says some of the many effects of lower pH include:

  • Organisms having to work harder to produce shells
  • Hampering neurological processes in adult fish
  • Boosting photosynthesis, overgrowing plants and reducing biodiversity
  • Making it harder for marine organisms to absorb nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other elements essential for growth.

“Because estuaries are places where freshwater mixes with saltwater from the oceans, preserving the delicate balance of nature is necessary, but can also be challenging,” Rockledge Rep. Bill Posey said in a news release.

“This critical legislation will help protect our estuaries by ensuring that we continue to study and monitor the effects of coastal acidification.”

Four bills, one goal

Posey and Palm City Rep. Brian Mast co-sponsored one of the four bills, called the National Estuaries and Acidification Research Act (H.R. 988).

The bipartisan NEAR Act authorizes $1 million for a two-year study by the National Academies of Sciences’ Ocean Studies Board to identify ways to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.

“Healthy estuaries are critical to our environment and economy — supporting the businesses in our communities that rely on fishing and tourism to thrive,” Mast said in a news release. “This will go a long way to help protect marine life and promote healthier communities.”

Before becoming law, the Senate must vote and the president must sign the NEAR Act and the other three bills:

  • COAST Research Act (H.R. 1237)
    Authorizes $50.5 million through 2021 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research and monitor the effects of ocean and coastal acidification.
  • Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act (H.R. 1716)
    Requires NOAA to identify coastal communities dependent on marine resources and evaluate the economic impacts of ocean acidification on the fishing industry.
  • Ocean Acidification Innovation Act (H.R. 1921)
    Authorizes NOAA to conduct prize competitions to incentivize innovation in an effort better understand, research, monitor and adapt to acidification.