“Is this the world that we want to leave to our children?”

James Jewell, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers.Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

James Jewell, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers.
Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

 

by Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News

 

“Is this the world that we want to leave to our children?”

That is the question posed by Jewell James, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers, of the numerous coal port projects around the northwest and beyond.

“We know the answer,” continued James. “We want our children to have healthy air, water and land.”

For the third year in a row, Lummi carvers have hand-carved a totem pole that will journey hundreds of miles, raising public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels. And the timing couldn’t be more important, as the Army Corps of Engineers may be deciding by the end of this month whether or not it will agree with the Lummi Nation and deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project at Cherry Point.  Lummi Nation, in fighting to block the terminal, cited its rights under a treaty with the United States to fish in its usual and accustomed areas, which include the waters around Cherry Point.

This year’s journey, aptly named ‘Our Shared Responsibilities’ began August 21 in Bellingham, the location of the proposed Cherry Point terminal. The pole then traveled through British Columbia, Tulalip, Portland, and Celilo Falls on the Washington/Oregon border, and then on to Yakama, in opposition with the Yakama Nation of the Port of Morrow export project. The journey continues to Spokane, where the Spokane and Blackfeet tribe will unite in their opposition to accelerated hydrological fracking and oil leasing in the northern range of the Rocky Mountains. The journey’s final destination, scheduled for August 28, will be Lame Deer, Montana, to support the Northern Cheyenne, whose sacred lands would be devastated by a proposed coalmine.

 

Lump carvers hand-carved this totem pole to raise public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels. Photo/Kim Kalliber

Lump carvers hand-carved this totem pole to raise public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels.
Photo/Kim Kalliber

 

“The totem pole design includes an eagle, a buffalo, two badgers, two drummers with a buffalo skull and drum, and a turtle with a lizard on each side. These are symbols of their culture,” explains James.  “These people want everyone to know that they love the earth, they love their mother, and they want us to help them protect our part of the earth. “

On August 23, the Tulalip Tribes welcomed the totem pole and guests with songs and blessings. Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon opened the ceremony and tribal member Caroline Moses led a blessing song for the totem pole.

 

Tulalip tribal member Caroline Moses blesses the totem pole. Photo/Kim Kalliber

Tulalip tribal member Carolyn Moses blesses the totem pole.
Photo/Kim Kalliber

 

“The salmon are already dying in the river because of the high temperature. The spawning grounds are poisoned.  They [coal companies] have yet to feel the repercussions of that. They are walking away with their hands slapped. These ports, Cherry Point, Port of Morrow, we’re talking about 153 million tons [of coal] annually coming into the Pacific Northwest, loaded with arsenic and mercury,” said James to the group of tribal and community members gathered at the shores of Tulalip Bay. “We’re saying no; we’re united. We’re happy to be at Tulalip because Tulalip is a leader tribe.”

James went on to speak about the united effort to defeat these fossil fuel export projects, saying that, “nobody hears us, because the media doesn’t come to Northern Cheyenne.” The totem pole journey plays an important role in bringing people together, creating new alliances, and empowering the public with information about fossil fuels and the damage they are causing the environment.

 

Jewell James and Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

Jewell James and Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon
Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

 

“Pope Francis came out with a statement last year that they were wrong and they should have taught the people how to love the earth, not destroy it.  They made a mistake. What we need to do as tribal people is to make sure that they live up to the words they put out publicly.  We’re calling on everybody to join together. We need to get together because the Earth’s dying. July was the hottest recorded July in recorded history. The Earth is burning. Global warming is a reality and they’re syphoning our rivers dry. Our salmon, our fish, and everything else that depend upon it is dying around us.

“We say it simply, love the Earth. That’s the message that we’re bringing to Northern Cheyenne in unison with us.”

 

 

The Clean Energy Governor And The Columbia River Oil Refinery

An aerial view of the Columbia River.AMELIA TEMPLETON

An aerial view of the Columbia River.
AMELIA TEMPLETON

 

By CONRAD WILSON & TONY SCHICK, KUOW.org

 

A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.

And yet, Inslee’s administration has worked for months to facilitate such a project along the Columbia River. A Texas-based energy company wants to site a combined crude oil and biofuel refinery in Longview, Washington. The company’s goal is to capitalize on low carbon fuel standards championed by West Coast political leaders, including Inslee.

The refinery is a project Inslee could have the final say in approving.

Inslee is a politician on a tightrope: He’s cultivating the reputation of a national leader on climate change policy. And he’s also the head of a government that is working with businessmen whose project calls for three trainloads of North Dakota crude oil to be hauled into his state each week by way of the Columbia River Gorge.

Riverside Energy’s plans for the 45,000 barrels-per-day refinery first surfaced publicly in April.

Since then, Inslee has said publicly that he knows next to nothing about the project.

“Have not heard much about it other than what you have reported in the media,” Inslee told reporters when asked about it at a May 28 news conference.

Emails obtained through a public records request by OPB and EarthFix tell a different story when it comes to Inslee’s administration. They document how Inslee’s cabinet and staff have been in discussions with Riverside Energy CEO Lou Soumas for nearly a year.

Inslee’s advisers have scheduled meetings with Soumas, asked him to give presentations to staff in various state agencies and invited him to comment on potential clean fuels legislation. In an email to Soumas last summer, an Inslee staffer offered to take action to support the advanced fuels industry.

In February, Soumas wrote to the Port of Longview that the Governor’s office had asked for updates on the project and when it could be announced, according to an email obtained by Columbia Riverkeeper and shared with news organizations.

“They are anxious to tie us in with their just issued draft Clean Fuels Standard process and other activities important to the (state’s) energy and commerce plans,” Soumas wrote. “I’m meeting with several of Inslee’s direct reports on Wednesday in Olympia and they hope for a positive update on concrete progress on the project.”

A week later, Brian Bonlender, the state’s director of commerce, and Matt Steurwalt, Inslee’s executive director of policy, held a meeting with Soumas in Steurwalt’s office, documents show.

Hours after the meeting, Bonlender connected Soumas with staff at the nonprofit Climate Solutions and a state lawmaker’s office.

When asked about the emails during an appearance on The Seattle Channel earlier this week, Inslee said he expects his staff to have such discussions.

“So I think I’d probably categorize these as: we’re trying to figure out what they have in mind,” Inslee said. “This does not presage any agreement whatsoever or opposition whatsoever because you have to know what you’re doing.”

Environmental groups, including the Columbia Riverkeeper and the Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, say such discussions should be happening in public view to ensure an honest process.

“It’s very concerning, it’s very worrisome that this kind of communication, this kind of lobbying would be happening with the governor’s office outside the view of the public, on an issue of this magnitude,” Sightline Policy Director Eric de Place said. “We’re talking about a very environmentally risky project in a key part of the region.”

Energy projects on the scale of Riverside’s proposal must undergo a review by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. It’s designed to assess whether projects comply with state statute.

Jim Luce, an attorney who chaired the council between 2001 and 2011, said he always cautioned the governor not to comment on proposed projects.

“When I was EFSEC chair, working with the governor’s staff, I encouraged — in fact, the staff encouraged — the governor to say nothing regarding a potential application because the public might conclude that there had been a predetermination or a predisposition toward a specific outcome on a project, which the governor would then have to finally decide,” Luce said.

But, he said, staff in the governor’s administration must toe a fine line. They advise on and promote the governor’s energy policies, yet the governor ultimately must make an independent decision on projects that might benefit those policies.

The refinery outlined in Soumas’ pitches to the Port of Longview and state officials aligns with Inslee’s push for cleaner fuels. With California, Oregon and British Columbia having passed low carbon fuels regulations, Soumas has said he sees Washington’s adoption of those rules as a matter of time.

Soumas has pitched his project to economic leaders in Longview as “the U.S. largest advanced renewable fuels facility” having “the lowest carbon footprint of any U.S. refinery” and capable of meeting the state’s proposed low carbon fuel standards.

Two thirds of the facility’s production would handle crude oil shipped by train from the Bakken shale of North Dakota. The other third would handle used cooking, seed and vegetable oils.

The refinery would rely on new technologies to create a mix of low carbon jet fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products for use in Portland and Southwest Washington.

Soumas has also estimated the refinery would generate 400 construction jobs and $8 million in tax revenue.

Inslee’s office told the Longview Daily News it sees opportunity in the project.

Keith Phillips, Inslee’s special assistant on climate and energy, said Riverside’s proposal is intriguing.

“The idea that they’re bringing biofuels and green jet fuels and cleaner gasoline — that’s all intriguing, and we’re very interested in it,” Phillips said. “But we haven’t made any explicit link to the clean fuels standards in part because we are working respectfully with the Legislature on ‘can we reach agreement on how to move forward.’”

Phillips said he and other staff have intentionally limited Inslee’s involvement in such discussions.

“We have been very careful with him and he has insisted on that,” he said. “He knows there have been clean refineries proposed. But has not met with the proponents, and has not been briefed by staff on the details. He’s waiting to see whether he has to perform a former legal role on the project.

de Place of the Sightline Institute said the track record of Northwest biofuel ventures is “one of failure.”

Two projects initially built as biofuel refineries in the Pacific Northwest now handle fossil fuels. Facilities in Clatskanie, Oregon, and in Hoquiam, Washington, failed as biofuel projects and now handle crude oil.

“The prospects of adding a third such site in the same region strikes me as one that’s really just a stalking horse for the conventional oil industry,” de Place said. “And as such I don’t really see why the governor’s office would be participating in the way they are alleged to be participating.”

KUOW/EarthFix reporter Ashley Ahearn and Northwest News Network reporter Austin Jenkins contributed to this report.

Shellfish Tell Puget Sound’s Polluted Tale

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

 

A mussel is opened for analysis at the WDFW lab. Volunteers and WDFW used mussels to test for contaminants at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound. | credit: WDFW

A mussel is opened for analysis at the WDFW lab. Volunteers and WDFW used mussels to test for contaminants at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound. | credit: WDFW

 

SEATTLE — Scientists used shellfish to conduct the broadest study to date of pollution levels along the shore of Puget Sound.

And in some places, it’s pretty contaminated.

This past winter the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife put mussels at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound.

After a few months, volunteers and WDFW employees gathered the shellfish and analyzed them for metals, fossil fuel pollution, flame-retardants and other chemicals. The WDFW just released the results.

“The biggest concentrations of those contaminants were found in the highly urbanized bays – Elliott Bay, Salmon Bay, in the Sinclair Inlet, Commencement Bay we found much higher contaminations than we did in the rest of Puget Sound,” said Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist who led the study for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

PAHs – or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – were found in mussels at every single test site. PAHs come from fossil fuels – spilled oil, wood stove smoke and engine exhaust, mainly. The particles can be deposited through the air or get washed into Puget Sound when it rains. Some PAHs are carcinogenic.

Map of PAHs in Puget Sound Shellfish
Map of PAH levels in Puget Sound. Credit: WDFW

 

The mussel samples all contained PCBs as well. Flame retardants and DDT were found at more than 90 percent of the sites – with the highest levels in more urban bays.

“This is showing that these contaminants are entering the nearshore food web and they’re likely being passed up to other higher organisms and people eat mussels too,” Lanksbury added.

The state Department of Health does rigorous testing for toxic algae and bacteria in shellfish – the kind of stuff that makes you sick immediately. But it doesn’t regularly test shellfish for metals and other contaminants that can harm human health over longer periods of exposure.

“PAH is a difficult issue,” said Dave McBride with the Department of Health. “They are widespread in the environment. We probably get a lot greater exposure to PAHs from the food we eat on the grill, hamburgers or smoked salmon. It’s all relative. Some of the PAHs are considered carcinogens so it’s definitely on our radar.”

Shellfish harvest, in general, is limited in dense urban areas – where the DFW’s mussel study showed the highest levels of contaminants. However, this past winter China banned all imports of shellfish from much of the west coast after finding elevated levels of arsenic in some shellfish harvested near Tacoma.

 

Mussel Watch Volunteers
Volunteers Jonathan Frodge, Chris Wilke and Paul
Fredrickson gather mussel samples at Discovery
Park in Seattle. Credit: Tom Foley

 

Lanksbury says that she still feels safe eating mussels and other shellfish from Puget Sound. And, she adds, there are things people can do to lower pollution levels.

“When they say, don’t let your car drip oil, support low-impact development where they’re having rain gardens, don’t wash your car on the side of the road – all of those kinds of things spare Puget Sound from contaminants that we produce on a daily basis by burning fossil fuels,” Lanksbury said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes to keep the mussel monitoring program going, with the continued help of more than 100 volunteers and citizen scientists from around Puget Sound.

Lummi Totem Pole Journey Rallies Voices Against Environmental Destruction

Courtesy of 'Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey'A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

Courtesy of ‘Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey’
A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

 

Richard Walker, 9/2/14, Indian Country Today

 

LUMMI NATION, Washington—At each stop on the totem pole’s journey, people have gathered to pray, sing and take a stand.

They took a stand in Couer d’Alene, Bozeman, Spearfish, Wagner and Lower Brule. They took a stand in Billings, Spokane, Yakama Nation, Olympia and Seattle. They took a stand in Anacortes, on San Juan Island, and in Victoria, Vancouver and Tsleil Waututh.

They’ll take a stand in Kamloops, Calgary and Edmonton. And they’ll take a stand at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, where the pole will be raised after its 5,100-mile journey to raise awareness of environmental threats posed by coal and oil extraction and rail transport.

“The coal trains, the tar sands, the destruction of Mother Earth—this totem [pole] is on a journey. It’s calling attention to these issues,” Linda Soriano, Lummi, told videographer Freddy Lane, Lummi, who is documenting the journey. “Generations yet unborn are being affected by the contaminants in our water.… We need people to take a stand. Warrior up—take a stand, speak up, get involved in these issues. We will not be silent.”

The 19-foot pole was crafted by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers. The pole and entourage left the Lummi Nation on August 17 for 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. The itinerary includes Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The pole is scheduled to arrive at Beaver Lake Cree on September 6.

The journey takes place as U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year out of the Northwest; a refinery is proposed in Kitimat, British Columbia, where heavy crude oil from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; and as Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal at Cherry Point in Lummi Nation territory. Cherry Point is a sacred and environmentally sensitive area; early site preparation for the terminal was done without permits, and ancestral burials were desecrated.

In a guest column published on August 11 in the Bellingham Herald, James wrote that Native peoples have long seen and experienced environmental degradation and destruction of healthy ecosystems, with the result being the loss of traditional foods and medicines, at the expense of people’s health.

And now, the coal terminal proposed at Cherry Point poses “a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat” to Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, James wrote.

“We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water used for coal piles stored on site,” he wrote. “What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and increase diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish, adding to the perils of climate change.”

James wrote that the totem pole “brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects.… Our commitment to place, to each other, unites us as one people, one voice to call out to others who understand that our shared responsibility is to leave a better, more bountiful world for those who follow.”

‘This Is the Risk That Is Being Taken’

Recent events contributed to the urgency of the totem pole journey’s message.

Two weeks before the journey got under way, a dike broke at a Quesnel, British Columbia, pond that held toxic byproducts left over from mining; an estimated 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand flowed into lakes and creeks upstream from the Fraser River, a total of four billion gallons of mining waste. A Sto:lo First Nation fisheries adviser told the Chilliwack Progress of reports of fish dying near the spill, either from toxins or asphyxiation from silt clogging their gills; and First Nation and non-Native fisheries are bracing for an impact on this year’s runs.

RELATED: Video: Watch 4 Billion Gallons of Mining Waste Pour Into Pristine B.C. Waterways

On July 24, a Burlington Northern train pulling 100 loads of Bakken crude oil derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. The railcars didn’t leak, but the derailment prompted a statement from Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians.

“People need to know that every time an oil train travels by, this is the risk that is being taken,” she said. “These accidents have occurred before. They will occur again. … The rail and bridge infrastructure in this country is far too inadequate to service the vast expansion of oil traffic we are witnessing.”

RELATED: Seattle Oil-Train Derailment Hits Close to Home for Quinault

A year earlier, on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of Bakken crude oil derailed in a small Quebec village, killing 47 people. An estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil spilled from ruptured tank cars and burned; according to the Washington Post, it was one of 10 significant derailments since 2008 in the United States and Canada in which oil spilled from ruptured cars.

RELATED: Lac-Mégantic Rail Tragedy Resonates in Quinault Nation as Victims Are Memorialized

Feds Call Bakken Crude Volatile as Quinault Warn Against Oil Rail Transport

Some good news during the journey: As the totem pole and entourage arrived at the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota, word was received that the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected Ambre Energy’s application to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River; the company wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia through the terminal.

RELATED: Treaty Victory as Northwest Tribes Celebrate Oregon Coal Train Rejection

One of the concerns that communities have about coal transport is exposure to coal dust; those concerns are shared by residents of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where proponents of a coal terminal on the Mississippi River forecast an increase in Gulf Coast coal exports from seven million tons in 2011 to 96 million by 2030.

Dr. Marianne Maumus of Ochsner Health Systems told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that coal dust contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and can cause cancer, neurological, renal and brain-development problems.

“I think the risk is real. I think there is a lot of potential harm from multiple sources,” Maumus told the Times-Picayune.

James said there are alternatives to coal and oil—among them energy generated by wind, sun and tides.

“But we’re not going to move toward those until we move away from fossil fuels,” he said.

In his Nation’s territory, Yakama Chairman JoDe L. Goudy told videographer Lane he hopes the pole’s journey will help the voice of Native people “and the voice of those people across the land that have a concern for the well-being of all” to be heard.

“May the journey, the blessing, the collective prayers that’s [being offered] and the awareness that’s being created lift us all up,” he said, “lift us all up to find a way to come against the powers that be … whether it be coal, whether it be oil or whatever it may be.”

Albert Redstar, Nez Perce, advised young people: “Remember the teachings of your people. Remember that there’s another way to look at the world rather than the corporate [way]. It’s time to say no to all that. It’s time to accept the old values and take them as your truths as well.… They’re ready for you to awaken into your own heart today.”

To Unite and Protect

The totem pole journey is being made in honor of the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually. Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, walked on in May.

RELATED: The Fire That Was Billy Frank Jr.; Indian Country’s Greatest Defender

James said the pole depicts a woman representing Mother Earth, lifting a child up; four warriors, representing protectors of the environment; and a snake, representing the power of the Earth. The pole journey has been undertaken in times of crisis several times this century.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, to help promote healing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, James and the House of Tears Carvers journeyed across the United States with healing poles for Arrow Park, New York, 52 miles north of Ground Zero; Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed; and Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, seven miles from the Pentagon. And In 2011, James and a 20-foot healing pole for the National Library of Medicine visited nine Native American reservations en route to Bethesda, Maryland. At each stop on the three-week cross-country journey, people prayed, James said at the time, “for the protection of our children, our communities and our elders, and generally helping us move along with the idea that we all need to unite and protect the knowledge that we have, and respect each other.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/02/lummi-totem-pole-journey-rallies-voices-against-environmental-destruction-156696?page=0%2C2

 

Native Americans rally to protect the Salish Sea

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Supporters raise their fists in solidarity to protect our Salish Sea, our Puget Sound waters. Photo: K. Kalliber

 

By Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News

Crowds of peaceful supporters came together at Seattle’s Sculpture Park on Monday, August 11, standing in solidarity to protect the Salish Sea and decrease oil train traffic in the Northwest. Proposed terminals include Cherry Point, located on the Lummi Nation’s sacred grounds.

After welcoming friends that arrived from water and land, members of the Duwamish tribe led the group in a healing song for the waters.

Native Americans, environmental groups and concerned citizens joined in the opposition with singing, dancing, prayer and strong words.

 

Photo: K. Kalliber

Photo: K. Kalliber

 

Water is one of the first things to go,” said Michael Evans, Snohomish Tribe of Indians Chairman. “We’ve already noticed that some of the fish are starting to die. If the fish can’t live in the fresh water, neither can man. We really need to pay attention to what we are doing to ourselves and to the land, it all affects the Salish Sea.”

One young supporter at the event said it was “all about Indian solidarity” and stressed the importance of standing together to oppose the increase of fossil fuels in our Puget Sound waters.

Monday’s rally was organized by Idle No More Washington, 350 Seattle, Protect the Sacred and Backbone Campaign.

10570518_532813650181586_6139495230256971341_n

 

Mass scallop die off a ‘red flag’ for the world’s oceans, and climate change is to blame

 

By Jacob Chamberlain. Source: Common Dreams

An increase of acidity in the Pacific Ocean is quickly killing off one of the world’s most beloved shellfish, the scallop, according to a report by the British Columbia Shellfish Grower’s Association.

“By June of 2013, we lost almost 95 per cent of our crops,” Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops in B.C. told Canada’s CTV News.

The cause of this increase in acidity, scientists say, is the exponential burning of fossil fuels for energy and its subsequent pollution. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fossil fuel emissions, which causes acidity to rise.

An overdose of carbon in the atmosphere subsequently causes too much acidity in the world’s oceans, Chris Harley, a marine ecologist from the University of British Columbia, told CTV News. Overly acidic water is bad for shellfish, as it impairs them from developing rigid shells. Oyster hatcheries along the West Coast are also experiencing a steep decline,CTV News reports.

“This is a bit of a red flag,” said Harley.

And this red flag has a much bigger impact than one might imagine. “Whenever we see an impact at some level of the food chain, there is a cascading effect at other levels of the food chain,” said Peter Ross, an expert in ocean pollution science.

A recent study warned that ocean acidification is accelerating at a rate unparalleled in the life of the oceans—perhaps the fastest rate in the planet’s existence—which is degrading marine ecosystems on a mass scale.

“The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth’s history,” said German marine biologist Hans Poertnerupon the release of a recent study published in the journal Nature.

Ocean acidification has been referred to as the “evil twin” of climate change.

Poertner says that if humanity’s industrial carbon emissions continue with a “business as usual” attitude, levels of acidity in the world’s oceans will be catastrophic.

Ocean acidification due to carbon emissions is at highest for 300m years

Coral is particularly at risk from acidification and rising sea temperatures. Photo: Paul Jarrett/PA

Coral is particularly at risk from acidification and rising sea temperatures. Photo: Paul Jarrett/PA

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian

The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned on Thursday.

An international audit of the health of the oceans has found that overfishing and pollution are also contributing to the crisis, in a deadly combination of destructive forces that are imperilling marine life, on which billions of people depend for their nutrition and livelihood.

In the starkest warning yet of the threat to ocean health, theInternational Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) said: “This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.” It published its findings in the State of the Oceans report, collated every two years from global monitoring and other research studies.

Alex Rogers, professor of biology at Oxford University, said: “The health of the ocean is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”

Coral is particularly at risk. Increased acidity dissolves the calcium carbonate skeletons that form the structure of reefs, and increasing temperatures lead to bleaching where the corals lose symbiotic algae they rely on. The report says that world governments’ current pledges to curb carbon emissions would not go far enough or fast enough to save many of the world’s reefs. There is a time lag of several decades between the carbon being emitted and the effects on seas, meaning that further acidification and further warming of the oceans are inevitable, even if we drastically reduce emissions very quickly. There is as yet little sign of that, with global greenhouse gas output still rising.

Corals are vital to the health of fisheries, because they act as nurseries to young fish and smaller species that provide food for bigger ones.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the seas – at least a third of the carbon that humans have released has been dissolved in this way, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and makes them more acidic. But IPSO found the situation was even more dire than that laid out by the world’s top climate scientists in theirlandmark report last week.

In absorbing carbon and heat from the atmosphere, the world’s oceans have shielded humans from the worst effects of global warming, the marine scientists said. This has slowed the rate of climate change on land, but its profound effects on marine life are only now being understood.

Acidification harms marine creatures that rely on calcium carbonate to build coral reefs and shells, as well as plankton, and the fish that rely on them. Jane Lubchenco, former director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a marine biologist, said the effects were already being felt in some oyster fisheries, where young larvae were failing to develop properly in areas where the acid rates are higher, such as on the west coast of the US. “You can actually see this happening,” she said. “It’s not something a long way into the future. It is a very big problem.”

But the chemical changes in the ocean go further, said Rogers. Marine animals use chemical signals to perceive their environment and locate prey and predators, and there is evidence that their ability to do so is being impaired in some species.

Trevor Manuel, a South African government minister and co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission, called the report “a deafening alarm bell on humanity’s wider impacts on the global oceans”.

“Unless we restore the ocean’s health, we will experience the consequences on prosperity, wellbeing and development. Governments must respond as urgently as they do to national security threats – in the long run, the impacts are just as important,” he said.

Current rates of carbon release into the oceans are 10 times faster than those before the last major species extinction, which was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction, about 55m years ago. The IPSO scientists can tell that the current ocean acidification is the highest for 300m years from geological records.

They called for strong action by governments to limit carbon concentrations in the atmosphere to no more than 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent. That would require urgent and deep reductions in fossil fuel use.

No country in the world is properly tackling overfishing, the report found, and almost two thirds are failing badly. At least 70 per cent of the world’s fish populations are over-exploited. Giving local communities more control over their fisheries, and favouring small-scale operators over large commercial vessels would help this, the report found. Subsidies that drive overcapacity in fishing fleets should also be eliminated, marine conservation zones set up and destructive fishing equipment should be banned. There should also be better governance of the areas of ocean beyond countries’ national limits.

The IPSO report also found the oceans were being “deoxygenated” – their average oxygen content is likely to fall by as much as 7 per cent by 2100, partly because of the run-off of fertilisers and sewage into the seas, and also as a side-effect of global warming. The reduction of oxygen is a concern as areas of severe depletion become effectively dead.

Rogers said: “People are just not aware of the massive roles that the oceans play in the Earth’s systems. Phytoplankton produce 40 per cent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, for example, and 90 per cent of all life is in the oceans. Because the oceans are so vast, there are still areas we have never really seen. We have a very poor grasp of some of the biochemical processes in the world’s biggest ecosystem.”

The five chapters of which the State of the Oceans report is a summary have been published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, a peer-reviewed journal.