EPIC environmental issues usually stir educated passions tugging in opposite directions. The alarming acidification of the world’s oceans is indisputable: It is all about chemistry.
As Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire noted Tuesday, the state’s seafood industry has served as the canary in the coal mine for the evolving hazards and threats already upon the environment.
Ocean acidification touches employment, demand for seafood, recreation, habitat, clean water and the heritage and culture of the Northwest, the governor said.
Lowering pH numbers and absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans is taking a demonstrable toll on shellfish resources and the state’s $270 million industry they support.
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Ocean acidification’s direct hit on the marine ecosystem touches the food chain for humans and the food sources for salmon, whales and seabirds.
Gregoire signed an executive order at a gathering at the Seattle Aquarium to mark the end of one phase of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification she convened earlier this year.
The 28-member panel recommends 42 actions to help the state respond and adapt to the issues around acidification. All must be grounded in urgent research, co-chair Bill Ruckelshaus said, so no major expenditures are started until “we know what to do.”
Efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and nutrient pollution are already under way and they will help lower carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere and local waters.
Responding to ocean acidification also means understanding the breadth of the threat to marine species and waters, and how to monitor and react to other conditions.
Coastal upwelling brings deeper water toward the surface. That water contains atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed in bygone days.
The cycles are real and have devastating and expensive consequences, as the seafood industry in Oregon and Washington learned.
Gregoire’s executive order will promote real-time monitoring of ocean acidity, create a center for the study of ocean acidification at the University of Washington, and directs the executive agencies to report by the end of 2013 on legislative and administrative progress.
Seafood is a significant source of protein in diets across the planet, and reliance on seafood to help feed the world is only expected to grow. The lessons learned by Washington’s intensified efforts will serve as a guide for a global problem.