News

June 11, 2019

During Capitol Hill Ocean Week, The U.S. House Passed Four Bills To Study Changing Ocean Chemistry

News Source: Forbes

Author(s): Priya Shukla

Since the end of the 19th century, several billions of tons of carbon have been pumped into our planet's atmosphere, causing sea surface temperatures and sea levels to rise. Additionally, as the oceans have absorbed some of this carbon, their overall acidity has increased by 30 percent.  Changes in acidity and overall ocean chemistry - termed "ocean acidification" - can negatively affect an animal's sense of smell (which helps them avoid predators, find food, and identify good habitats) and ability to grow its shell.

"We first felt its effects in the mid-2000’s when more acidified water caused Pacific Northwest oyster farmers to suffer drastic losses and go nearly bankrupt," says Dr. Sarah Cooley, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Acidification Program, "Scientists later identified the threat acidification poses to other industries and the people who rely on them, including the $1 billion-dollar lobster industry in the northeast and the coral reef tourism industry of Florida."

Last week, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives passed four bills to combat the ocean's changing chemistry. The Ocean Acidification Innovation Act (H.R.1921) (which I previously reported on here), COAST Research Act of 2019(H.R. 1237), Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019(H.R.1716), and NEAR Act of 2019 (H.R.988).  Together, these bills, if passed by the U.S. Senate, would provide resources to monitor changes in ocean chemistry in both coastal and offshore environments, understand the effects of acidification on coastal communities, and elicit a National Academies of Science study that examines changing chemistry in estuaries - the bodies of water between freshwater rivers and the oceans. The passage of these bills coincided with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation's annual Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW).

"We’ve learned a lot about ocean acidification and how to protect the communities it impacts over the past ten years of federal investments in ocean acidification science," says Dr. Cooley, "But we can’t stop now."

Not only is acidification expected to affect the Dungeness crab fishery and shellfish farms on the west coast, but it could also harm the American lobster and Atlantic cod fisheries on the east coast. Thus, passing this legislation could empower coastal industries to better understand the impacts of acidification and develop strategies to adapt to imminent changes.