By Sophie Lewis
Image by Mark Tegethoff (@tegethoff)
Ocean acidification is a serious threat to seafood abundance, so much so that the United Nations Environment Program has declared it a threat to international food security. Carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere at shocking rates, which in turn causes an increased amount of carbon in the world’s oceans. More carbon dioxide in oceans causes an increase in oceans’ acidity, contributing to less carbonate available for marine animals who need it to create their shells and skeletons, and overall has the potential for devastating impacts globally. One area where this acidification would be the most detrimental is the Gulf of Maine because of its geographical position and the influx of fresh, cold water into the gulf. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, Maine is at high risk for economic harm due to ocean acidification because of the ocean acidifying soonest in this area and the fact that residents here rely on shellfish for their livelihoods. Maine’s marine resource economy depends on harvesting shelled animals including lobsters, oysters, urchins, and clams.
Unfortunately, this issue went largely unidentified in Maine given that water acidity monitoring is only just getting started in the Gulf of Maine. Therefore, most of the information available about this topic is from studies in other places in the world. Evidence from these studies shows that ocean acidification threatens seafood supply, specifically those creatures which Maine’s economy depends on harvesting–shelled marine animals such as lobsters, oysters, urchins, and clams. With less carbonate available, they take a much longer time building their shells and reproducing which impacts populations drastically. Ocean acidification is also very harmful to plankton which are very productive members of the food chain in the Gulf of Maine, as they are the foundation of the food web and its primary producers.
As the United Nations Environment Program pointed out, ocean acidification is a threat to international food security. Unfortunately the Gulf of Maine is even more vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification. This is because of its geographical position and the influx of fresh, cold water into the gulf. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, Maine is at high risk for economic harm due to ocean acidification. This is because of the ocean acidifying soonest in this area and the fact that residents here rely on shellfish for their livelihoods.
There is no easy policy solution to curb ocean acidification. However, it is possible to address ocean acidification at a local level through mitigation, adaption, and remediation. In 2014 Maine became the second state to start an Ocean Acidification Commission. This initiative however, relied significantly on public service work as there was no funded council. This meant that a volunteer network needed to be established to carry out the work, and many Mainers stepped up. The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a network of scientists, educators, and conservationists seeking to implement the commission's recommendations.
There are many more things that Maine policymakers and residents can do to help protect our oceans and combat this crisis including reducing waterway pollution through smarter fishing practices, investing in better technology for sewage water treatment centers, investing in techniques to protect shellfish from corrosive waters, and increasing funding for research and monitoring programs that protect shellfish. However, these solutions are local and–as the United Nations Environment Program acknowledges–this is a global problem. Therefore, the The best step towards healthier oceans is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is pumped into the atmosphere on a global scale. It is crucial that Maine–and the global community–heeds the recommendations of the Ocean Acidification Commission and other international authorities on ocean acidification in order to take action to protect our oceans and economies.
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