Global carbon dioxide emissions are triggering permanent and
alarming changes to ocean chemistry along the North American West Coast that
require immediate, decisive action to combat, including development of a
coordinated regional management strategy, a panel of scientific experts has
A failure to adequately respond to this fundamental change
in seawater chemistry, known as ocean acidification, is anticipated to have
devastating ecological consequences for the West Coast in the decades to come,
the 20-member West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel warned
in a comprehensive report unveiled Monday, April 4.
"Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions from
human activities are not just responsible for global climate change; these
emissions also are being absorbed by the world's oceans," said Dr.
Alexandria Boehm, co-chair of the Panel and a Professor of Civil and
Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. "Our work is a catalyst
for management actions that can address the impacts of ocean acidification
we're seeing today and to get ahead of what's predicted as ocean chemistry
continues to change."
Because of the way the Pacific Ocean circulates, the North
American West Coast is exposed to disproportionately high volumes of seawater
at elevated acidity levels. Already, West Coast marine shelled organisms are
having difficulty forming their protective outer shells, and the West Coast
shellfish industry is seeing high mortality rates during early life stages when
shell formation is critical. The acidity of the world's oceans is anticipated
to continue to accelerate in lockstep with rising atmospheric carbon dioxide
The Panel was convened in 2013 to explore how West Coast
government agencies could work together with scientists to combat the effects
of ocean acidification and a related phenomenon known as hypoxia, or low
dissolved oxygen levels.
The Panel's final report, titled "Major Findings,
Recommendations and Actions," summarizes the state of the science around
this pressing environmental issue and outlines a series of potential management
actions that the governments of the states of California, Oregon, and
Washington, and the province of British Columbia, can immediately begin
implementing to offset and mitigate the economic and ecological impacts of
The Panel is urging ocean management and natural resource
agencies to develop highly coordinated, comprehensive multi-agency solutions,
- Exploring approaches that involve the use of seagrass to
remove carbon dioxide from seawater.
- Supporting wholesale revisions to water-quality criteria
that are used as benchmarks for improving water quality, as existing water-quality
criteria were not written to protect marine organisms from the damaging effects
of ocean acidification.
- Identifying strategies for reducing the amounts of
land-based pollution entering coastal waters, as this pollution can exacerbate
the intensity of acidification in some locations.
- Enhancing a West Coast-wide monitoring network that
provides information toward development of coastal ecosystem management plans.
- Supporting approaches that enhance the adaptive capacity
of marine organisms to cope with ocean acidification.
Although ocean acidification is a global problem that will
require global solutions, the Panel deliberately focused its recommendations
around what West Coast ocean management and natural resource agencies can do
collectively to combat the challenge at the regional level.
"One of the most exciting aspects of the Panel's work
is that it scales a challenging, global problem down to a local and regional
level, providing a roadmap to guide measurable and meaningful progress
immediately," said Deborah Halberstadt, Executive Director of the
California Ocean Protection Council, a government agency that served as the
impetus for the Panel's formation.
West Coast policymakers will use the Panel's recommendations
to continue to advance management actions aimed at combatting ocean
acidification and hypoxia. This work will be coordinated through the Pacific
Coast Collaborative, a coalition of policy leads from the offices of the
governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the premier of British
Columbia, which have been working together on West Coast ocean acidification
since 2013. The Pacific Coast Collaborative has been engaging state and federal
agencies across multiple jurisdictions to elevate the need for action along the
The Panel, which was convened for a three-year period that
ended in February 2016, also has recommended the formation of a West Coast
Science Task Force to continue to advance the scientific foundation for
comprehensive, managerially relevant solutions to West Coast ocean
"Communities around the country are increasingly
vulnerable to ocean acidification and long-term environmental changes,"
said Dr. Richard Spinrad, Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration. "It is crucial that we comprehend how ocean
chemistry is changing in different places, so we applaud the steps the West
Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel has put forward in
understanding and addressing this issue. We continue to look to the West Coast
as a leader on understanding ocean acidification."