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Oceans at risk

Posted by Jen Coleman at Jan 21, 2014 01:37 PM |
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West Coast ocean waters are more acidic than other places; so when acid levels increase, our oysters feel it first.

In 2008, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery lost almost 80% of their oyster larvae. It wasn’t disease that was causing the problem off the coast of Oregon, it was the water itself.


The culprit is carbon dioxide: the very same greenhouse gas that is causing climate change is also making ocean water more acidic. So say Julia Roberson from Ocean Conservancy and George Waldbusser, a research scientist from OSU.

acidic water
Astoria audiences discover how the carbon they exhale can change the acidity of water

Oregon Environmental Council co-sponsored science talk events in Astoria and Portland last month, featuring Roberson and Waldbusser.  They described (to packed audiences) how huge plumes of carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels are absorbed out of the atmosphere by our oceans. In fact, about one third of global carbon dioxide is absorbed in water—bad new for a whole host of marine animals. 

The acidic water dissolves and deforms the shells of oysters, crabs, and other critters that build shells. It interferes with the navigation senses of clownfish—just like the one featured in Finding Nemo—they really can’t find their way home!

The West Coast of the United States is the canary in the coal mine for ocean acidification. Our waters are more acidic than other places around the globe. When Pacific Ocean currents bump up against the West Coast, deep under ground water (full of ancient dissolved carbon) is forced to the surface. Combine that “upwelling” with the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere every day, and we have a recipe for highly acidic water. 

Fortunately, some of our decision-makers are making efforts to address the problem:


In 2013, Senator Betsy Johnson from Astoria secured funding for continued research and partnership between industry and the Oregon University system. 


Governor Kitzhaber and the State of California signed an agreement to continue scientific analysis and make recommendations to decision-makers. 

Pacific Coast

The leaders of OR, WA, BC, and CA  sent a joint letter the U.S. and Canadian federal governments urging more resources to study and mitigate ocean acidification.

Oregon is lucky to have OSU teaming up with Whiskey Creek and other shellfish farmers on short-term ways to keep this $270 million industry going. And OEC is working on the desperately needed solutions to address both water quality and climate pollution.

You can lend your voice to the growing chorus of those who are demanding action by signing up for Oregon Environmental Council Action Alerts.

To learn more about ocean acidification, check out this video: Washington State Ocean Acidification is About People 

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