In Depth

Combating West Coast Ocean Acidification: ECO Interviews Oceanology International North America Panelist

With its thriving Bluetech community, San Diego, California is an ideal location for the first Oceanology International North America conference and exhibition, which takes place 14-16 February 2017.

But the US West Coast faces perhaps the biggest ocean acidification challenges of any region in the world. Stephen B. Weisberg, Ph.D., Executive Director, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project Authority is one of 6 panel members on Oceanology International North America’s Climate & Environment keynote panel. In cooperation with Oceanology International North America, ECO interviewed Dr. Weisberg about efforts to combat ocean acidification.

How do carbon dioxide emissions drive ocean acidification?

Stephen B. Weisberg: About a third of our carbon dioxide emissions are being absorbed by the world’s oceans. And all of this carbon dioxide is fundamentally changing our ocean’s chemistry through a phenomenon we call ocean acidification.

We’re already seeing the effects on marine shelled organisms, which are having difficulty forming their shells. This acidification is already disrupting the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest – oysters, mussels and crabs are all having increasing difficulty adjusting to the changing chemistry of the seawater. Because humans are continuing to produce carbon dioxide emissions, scientists are in agreement that ocean acidification is going to continue to intensify in the coming decades.

In your view, on what timescale will the effects of these threats be clearly visible to general society?

Stephen B. Weisberg: Ocean acidification is not intensifying at the same rate everywhere in the world. Because of the way the Pacific Ocean circulates, the West Coast is exposed to disproportionately high volumes of seawater at elevated acidity levels. This issue requires coordination and regional planning up and down the entire North American West Coast.

As you can imagine, it’s a huge feat to get all of the various West Coast government agencies, researchers and stakeholders to begin talking and working together. Ultimately, all of these parties must leverage and coordinate their resources to develop regional OA solutions.

What are government agencies and the ocean science community doing to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification?

Stephen B. Weisberg: The three West Coast states and the Province of British Columbia recently convened the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel to develop a comprehensive, long-term management strategy for combatting ocean acidification.

The Panel’s deliberations led to a detailed roadmap for how to begin addressing ocean acidification. The final report, which was released in spring 2016, includes eight major long-term recommendations and 14 incremental action items that can be accomplished in the timespan of about a year.

How will these recommendations help to combat problems on the West Coast?

Stephen B. Weisberg: The recommendations of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel fall into two main categories: the actions we can take to reduce the West Coast’s exposure to ocean acidification, and the actions we can take to enhance the ability of marine ecosystems (especially vulnerable species like shelled organisms) to cope with this new reality.

In highly urbanized coastal Southern California, for example, we are looking at whether the nutrients being discharged in our coastal waters may be exacerbating ocean acidification, especially in sensitive nearshore ecosystems.

Another major Panel recommendation involves updating the water-quality criteria that we use as management goals to protect our coastal ocean. The existing criteria were developed over 40 years ago and are not grounded in current science.

Have the recommendations provided any clear results or benefits yet?

Stephen B. Weisberg: The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel released its final recommendations in April 2016 and immediately began briefing the EPA, NOAA and other agencies. The Panel’s conveners also launched a media campaign to raise public awareness of OA.

The Panel’s messages have been extraordinarily well-received; legislation already has been passed in California in direct response to the Panel’s recommendations. Government agencies and others are appreciative that the Panel’s roadmap gives them guidance and strategy for how to make the most of limited resources. Over the next five to 10 years, we expect to see a lot of progress on this issue. And that’s really exciting and gives us hope that we can do our part to help address a huge global challenge.

Do you feel that there is enough awareness of the issues that the West Coast (and the world) faces from ocean acidification?

Stephen B. Weisberg: The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel concluded that ocean acidification will define environmental management along the West Coast in the coming decades, in much the same way that legacy pollutants inspired a generation of environmental activism in the 1970s and 80s.

As scientists, we must do everything we can to emphasize that OA is an undeniable, pervasive issue the impacts from which have only begun to be felt. OA endangers not only the biological health of marine ecosystems, but also the numerous economic and societal benefits that stem from the West Coast’s dependence on its coastal waters. The Climate & Environment Panel at OINA 2017 offers a high-profile platform to reinforce these important messages.

The Oceanology International North America Climate & Environment Keynote Panel takes place on Wednesday 15th February. It will highlight numerous topics including how maritime regions are vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

The panel will consider the threats to coastal communities and the ocean environment, exploring the role of ocean science and technology. Panelists will consist of professionals from port environment protection initiatives, biology, coast and oceanographers.

In addition to Stephen Weisberg’s participation, the session will include talks from Russell Callender, Assistant Administrator, NOAA's National Ocean Service; Tim Gallaudet, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral – Oceanographer for the Navy and Climate task force; and Jason Giffen, Assistant Vice President, Port of San Diego. To register, click here.

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