Did you know that climate change has made the Gulf of Maine 500% less productive at producing marine life? How much of that reduced productivity is a result of ocean acidification is a question that might be answered by Maine’s Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which met for the first time on August 1. The Commission, the second in the nation of its kind, is tasked with understanding the science behind ocean acidification, determining what we still need to learn to fully understand the problem, and recommending potential solutions.
The Commission is composed of an impressive array of legislators, fishermen and scientists, most of whom are volunteering their time. At the August 1 meeting, which was open to the public, Commission members asked tough and detailed questions to a team of scientists who shared their knowledge about this problem. Here are some of the facts that I learned at the meeting:
- Ocean acidification is like acid rain, in that carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. Its impacts differ, however, because the ocean can absorb more carbonic acid than freshwater lakes (which were most affected by acid rain). The acid nonetheless eats away at the shells of mollusks like clams and oysters and affects crustaceans like lobsters by impacting the calcium carbonate that they use to make shells. Scientists are still studying and discovering exactly how harmful ocean acidification is to shellfish.
- The major cause of ocean acidification is carbon from fossil fuel emissions. We must find local, regional, and national ways to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from sources like power plants and cars.
- We must also reduce coastal sources of acidification, such as stormwater runoff and insufficient sewage treatment. This can be done mostly by passing laws and taking actions that drastically reduce the amount of nutrients that flow into the ocean from these controllable sources.
- We have to find ways to help marine life adapt to the changes already caused by ocean acidification and those further changes that we cannot stop. Scientists are looking at whether we can recycle mollusk shells and add them to bays to act like an antacid, the ability of plants like seaweed and sea grass to absorb carbon, and ocean planning to perhaps start seaweed farms (which could reduce carbon) near shellfish farms (which are harmed by carbon).
- Some shellfish farmers in Maine have already begun storing sea water to use during times when stormwater runoff makes the water unsafe for developing oysters.
In a state where 75% of our fisheries income is derived from shellfish, the Commission has a large task in front of it. The sincerity, expertise and dedication of the Commission members inspired confidence that they will find ways to help reduce the causes of acidification and lessen its impacts on our fisheries. CLF is especially grateful to Representative Mick Devin for introducing the legislation and working so hard to bring scientists and others to the first meeting. Senator Chris Johnson and Representative Wayne Perry also played active roles at the meeting, asking thoughtful questions and helping to shape the work ahead.
The Commission has set up working committees and will meet three more times as a whole. After that, they will write a report to be presented to the state legislature by December 5. If you want to learn more about the Commission, or attend any of their meetings, check out their website.
CLF will assist the Commission using our legal and policy expertise. On a state and regional level, we will continue to work for clean energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and for laws and permits that reduce or eliminate sources of nutrient pollution to our ocean.