In-Depth: Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), one of three co-chairs of the House Estuaries Caucus, reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to fight coastal acidification and help affected estuaries. After this bill passed the House Science Committee, he said:
“Because estuaries are places where fresh water mixes with salt water from the oceans, preserving the delicate balance of nature is necessary but can also be challenging. This critical legislation will help protect our estuaries by ensuring that we continue to study and monitor the effects of coastal acidification.”
The Ocean Conservancy expressed its support for this bill last Congress. In a press release, the director of its Ocean Acidification Program, Sarah Cooley, said:
“Healthy estuaries are a critical economic and recreational driver in coastal communities across the country. Estuaries contribute $320 billion to our nation’s GDP through transportation, recreation, tourism and other port activities and provide habitat for more than 75% of commercially caught fish in the United States. Ten years of federal investment in ocean acidification research has shown that acidification hurts tourism, recreational fishing, and coastal communities that depend on these healthy marine ecosystems. However, because acidification often interacts with other coastal processes, like runoff, erosion, and upwelled water from the ocean, it is difficult to measure its individual impact in estuarine environments. [This bill is] an important step forward in improving how we can adjust our policy framework to deal with these challenges and better protect our nation’s estuaries.”
In a press release after this bill’s reintroduction this Congress, Cooley said:
“Healthy communities go hand-in-hand with healthy estuaries. Ocean acidification poses a threat to the jobs and livelihoods, cultures and ways of life of America’s coastal residents, from the Pacific Northwest’s shellfish industry to Florida’s coral reef tourism. In introducing this important legislation, Representatives Bill Posey, Brian Mast, and Suzanne Bonamici have taken an important step forward in helping coastal communities deal with these challenges and better protect our nation’s estuaries. Ocean Conservancy thanks them for working across the aisle in championing this bill and protecting the estuaries that people depend on for food, jobs, and recreation.”
More generally, Cooley wrote a post in support of Congressional action on ocean acidification on the Ocean Conservancy’s blog:
“While we are beginning to see coordinated, ocean-focused action on climate change occurring at the local, regional and even international levels—there is much more work to be done at the federal level to help our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. Join me in urging Congress to fund ocean acidification and ocean change research. Federal research funding can help deepen our scientific understanding of this problem and enable us to respond in order to protect thousands of jobs. Impacts of ocean change on communities across the country, both on the coast and inland, were of particular interest for the Environment Subcommittee when I testified last week… We must not shy away from the opportunity to continue American leadership on ocean science and technology, combining that history of excellence with a forward-looking vision to steward the main resource that makes life on Earth possible: our ocean.”
This bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee with the support of seven bipartisan cosponsors, including four Republicans and three Democrats, in the current Congress. Last Congress, it had seven bipartisan cosponsors, including four Democrats and three Republicans, and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: As noted in Section 2 of this bill, Congress has found that ocean acidification affects human health, natural resources, and environmental, economic, and recreational coastline usage. In testimony to the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment on February 27, 2019, Dr. Sarah Cooley, Director of the Ocean Acidification Program at the Ocean Conservancy, noted the magnitude of the threat ocean acidification poses:
“Ocean acidification is an invisible but growing threat to the world’s oceans. Time-series measurements show clearly that the dissolved carbon dioxide concentration of surface ocean water is rising at the same pace as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations (Figure 1). When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, carbonic acid is created, which is gradually lowering the pH of seawater and altering other chemical balances important for marine life. We are already seeing the effects of ocean acidification. In the mid-2000s, widespread death of larval shellfish at hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States alerted the aquaculture industry to a major region-wide problem. In partnership with federal and university researchers, the industry identified the problem as ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions dissolved in Pacific Ocean water that upwelled to the surface decades earlier than previously anticipated… Since then, laboratory studies… have shown that ocean acidification has an array of effects on marine species, and the effects are difficult to generalize. Global studies have determined with high confidence that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide causes ocean acidification, and that acidification decreases the calcification rate of many organisms with hard shells and skeletons. Corals grow more slowly under acidification and are less able to recover from breakage or loss from heat-driven bleaching or disease. Many animals that sustain lucrative fisheries, such as oysters and crabs like Dungeness, red King, and Tanner crabs, are more sensitive at earlier life stages, and acidification causes them to grow more slowly and allows fewer to survive to adulthood. Ocean acidification changes the behavior of some fishes and sharks, impairing their ability to find prey or avoid predators. Some models suggest acidification will generally reduce fish biomass and catch. [O]cean acidification can stimulate growth and primary production in seagrasses and some phytoplankton. Although increased plankton growth can provide benefits to marine ecosystems, some fast growing species can out-compete others and cause harmful algal blooms. Emerging evidence suggests that harmful algal blooms could become more frequent or toxic in response to acidification. While it is unclear exactly how ocean acidification’s impacts will propagate through ocean ecosystems and food webs, there is no question that complex interactions will occur among ocean acidification and other stressors… Overall, ocean acidification may disrupt important benefits that ocean systems and resources provide to human communities. Coral reef-associated fisheries and tourism are at risk, as well as coastal communities protected from storm waves by corals. Some studies suggest ocean acidification will alter the market qualities of fishery harvests.”
In a study published in the scientific journal “Global Change Biology,” researchers found that increasing ocean acidification is altering the scientific makeup of mussel shells along the West Coast. In a news release, study leader Stephanie McCoy, assistant professor of biological science at Florida State University, said that “significant changes” in how mussels product their shells “can be tied to a shifting ocean chemistry.”
In her Congressional testimony, Dr. Cooley also observed that there are many existing efforts to understand ocean acidification already underway, including a federally-funded coordinated response by U.S. federal agencies that Congress initiated in 2009 with the passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FORAM). Under FORAM, U.S. federal scientific agencies coordinate their efforts to understand, track and address ocean acidification and the federal government funds laboratory studies in this area. In addition to this effort, Dr. Cooley also noted the development of “an active community” dedicated to identifying, testing and sharing opportunities to act on ocean acidification which includes industry (e.g., shellfish hatchery owners), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), university and federal researchers, resource managers and more.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / JodiJacobson)