Northwest Faces Greater Risks From Acidifying Waters

Pacific Oysters are most vulnerable to corrosive waters during their first few days of life at the time when forming shells are critical to their survival.Katie Campbell
Pacific Oysters are most vulnerable to corrosive waters during their first few days of life at the time when forming shells are critical to their survival.
Katie Campbell


By Cassandra Profita, OPB


The Pacific Northwest faces a higher risk of economic harm from ocean acidification than other parts of the country, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a “potent combination” of risk factors along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The region has cold ocean water that absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warmer water, and it has upwelling ocean currents that bring corrosive water to the surface.

Meanwhile, the Northwest also has a well-developed shellfish industry that produces more than $100 million a year in sales and supports thousands of jobs. Shellfish hatcheries in northern Oregon supply oyster larvae to the entire region’s aquaculture industry.

George Waldbusser, an ocean science professor at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, said it was the first time scientists analyzed social vulnerability as well as the natural hazards of ocean acidification.

“The major finding is that different parts of the country are vulnerable for different reasons,” he said. “In some parts of the country, the social vulnerability is quite high whereas the actual CO2 effect on the waters was a bit lower.”

Waldbusser said while ocean upwelling does create  a “hot spot” for acidification in the Northwest, the region also has a lot of resources within universities and marine labs devoted to mitigating the negative impacts on the shellfish industry.

“We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification,” he said. “Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem.”

Study co-author Julie Ekstrom at the University of California-Davis said the risks to the Northwest shellfish industry are already fairly well known.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” she said.

major oyster die-off in Oregon from 2006 to 2008 called attention to the problems acidic water can cause for developing shellfish, who depend on calcium carbonate to build their shells. Ocean acidification reduces carbonate in the water, making it harder for shellfish and corals to survive.

Ocean Acidification Lawsuit In Seattle Federal Court

Associated Press, February 10, 2015


SEATTLE (AP) — A lawsuit that accuses the federal Environmental Protection Agency from failing to protect Washington and Oregon oysters from ocean acidification is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in Seattle.

The agency is being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization that works to protect endangered species and habitat.

The center is challenging an EPA decision three years ago that said Washington and Oregon sea water meets water-quality standards meant to protect marine life.

Inslee warns of ‘malarkey’ and ‘assault by polluting industries’

By Joel Connelly, Seattle PI

Washington is going to witness “an assault by polluting industries” against efforts to reduce carbon pollution and retool the state’s economy around growth of clean energy, Gov. Jay Inslee warned a supportive Seattle audience on Friday.



Inslee:  The polluters are coming, the polluters are coming


Inslee is preparing a four-day “agendathon” next week in which he will unveil education, transportation, pollution and tax proposals.  He previewed his proposal, in populist tones, to a Washington Budget and Policy Center Conference.

The polluters — he didn’t name names — will “try to convince low income people that asthma is not a problem, that ocean acidification is not a problem,” Inslee charged.  He warned that arguments by greenhouse gas emitters, perfected in California, will be deployed up the coast.

“The polluting industries are going to spend unlimited resources, unlimited dollars to convince you that unlimited pollution is a good idea,” Inslee exclaimed.  ”You’re going to read the op-eds. You’re going to see the television commercials. It’s a bunch of malarkey.”

The governor’s remarks offered a prelude to what might become the state’s second seminal public battle over pollution and protecting its environment.

Republican Gov. Dan Evans went on a statewide television hookup in 1970, appealing over the heads of Republican and Democratic legislators who were blocking a package of laws that created the Washington Department of Ecology.  Evans won the face off.

Four decades later, the state Republican Party is demonizing Inslee’s carbon-reduction program before it is even introduced.  The GOP has raised the prospect of $1-a-gallon gasoline price increases. Such a gas price hike “is not going to happen,” Inslee said Friday.

The governor said his carbon reduction/energy program, which he will outline at REI’s Seattle store next Wednesday, is not just “happy granola.”

He will, said Inslee,  present a program to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. “It is the law of this state that we reduce carbon pollution to 1990 levels by the year 2020,” Inslee said.

The program will include not-yet-specified incentives to “grow our economy, grow jobs and reduce economic inequality” in Inslee’s words.  He has, as candidate, book coauthor (“Apollo’s Fire”) and governor touted clean energy industries as the 21st century’s path to economic growth.

Inslee talked of a recent meeting with inner city school students who live along the Duwamish Waterway, next to an industrial Superfund site and close by a freeway.

“What these students were showing was that there is an incredible increase in asthma the closer you get to the freeway,” Inslee said.


The Duwamish River, pictured from the air. Due to industrial contamination, the lower five miles of the Duwamish was designated as a superfund site by the United States Environmental Agency. Photo: Paul Joseph Brown, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“We don’t find many high tech millionaires living next to freeways and large industrial areas” — Gov. Inslee. The Duwamish River, an EPA Superfund site, pictured from the air. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown, Seattle Post-Intelligencer


The governor argued that all forms of pollution hit hardest at low-income residents. “We don’t find many high tech millionaires living next to freeways and large industrial areas,” said Inslee.

The governor even evoked forest fires — increasing in scope and intensity with global warming — as a source of pollution that hurts the poor. He made specific reference to the 230,000-acre Carelton Complex fire in north-central Washington last summer.

“You know who is really suffering in the Okanogan Valley right now?  It’s the low-income folk,” said Inslee.

(Several of the governor’s most prominent “green” contributors have summer homes in the Methow Valley upriver from the scene of the fires.)

The passion in Inslee is genuine, a conservationist ethic that began when his biology teacher father took him to Carkeek Park and explained the life cycle of a clam.  The governor has warned of ocean acidification and its danger to the state’s $300 million-a-year shellfish industry.

At the same time, however, a Republican-controlled state Senate will have great influence over his agenda. The “green” color of Seattle-area technology firms is balanced by refineries, railroads, industrial ports and resource industries.



Republican State Sen. Baumgartner: Warns against tax, revenue proposals that would disrupt economic recovery.


Just before Inslee went on, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, warned the liberal audience that the state faces difficult choices and flagged opposition to any proposals that would hurt the state’s business climate.

Inslee can take hope in results of a new statewide business poll, conducted for Gallatin Public Affairs and the Downtown Seattle Association.

A majority of likely voters, at 53.7 percent, said it would support a tax on carbon if the levy is offset by lower sales and business taxes, with only 32.6 percent opposed.

A California-style cap and trade approach, a “free enterprise” solution once lauded by Republicans — but now decried as “cap and tax” by such figures as Sarah Palin — was favored by 51.4 percent of those surveyed.

Inslee is set on framing the statewide debate.

At one point Friday, he declared:  “What we can’t tell these (low-income) kids is they are going to have to swallow asthma.”

Tribes Need to Push Climate Change Reform Now

Dina Gilio-Whitaker , Indian Country Today, 9/16/14


As ICTMN reported recently, indigenous peoples will be at the forefront of upcoming United Nations and civil society events in New York City. The long anticipated, one and a half day World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be immediately followed by a one day United Nations Climate Summit. Immediately preceding the Summit is a three day Climate Convergence conference and march in which indigenous groups like #Idle No More And International Indian Treaty Council are taking a lead role.

Unlike a decade ago, climate change is no longer a topic limited to the ranting of left-wing radicals and only the daftest of fools continue to deny its reality. The evidence is staring us in the face with each new catastrophic weather event and satellite image of melting polar ice caps. And scientists and politicians alike know that indigenous peoples are the canaries in the proverbial coal mine. Climate refugees are by and large indigenous peoples from island nations and other low-lying regions being inundated by rising seas, to say nothing of those displaced by famine and drought from changing weather patterns.

No one is unaffected, even in the so-called “first world.” Fourth World nations are on the frontlines of climate disaster; the Quinault Nation received a sobering wake-up call earlier this year when a state of emergency was declared after a seawall breach caused severe flooding. Northwest coast tribes are also affected by a disastrous decline in shellfish due to ocean acidification. The Columbia River plateau region is expected to become more vulnerable to drought, warmer summer temperatures, and more extreme weather episodes. Earlier snowmelt and reductions in snowpack will stress some reservoir systems, and increased stress on groundwater systems will lead to a decrease in recharge and ultimately decreases in salmon populations.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the havoc climate change is and will continue to wreak, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but all over Indian country. Climate change demands the ability to mitigate and adapt to the damage and disruption being caused to traditional ways of life in indigenous communities. It does also, in fact, present the opportunity for Indian nations to respond in ways that reinforce their self-determination by developing their own unique approaches to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At this point every native nation in the US should be adopting a tribal climate change policy (TCCP).

In 2008 I wrote a research paper on the need for TCCP, specifically for the Colville Confederated Tribes. Back then, tribal nations were only just beginning to think about how to prepare for climate change. It’s interesting to see how much has changed since then. For example, the Obama administration in 2013 moved to support tribal self-determination through climate change action when it included tribal participation in an executive order promoting national climate change preparedness, something almost unimaginable in the Bush administration of 2008.

While such initiatives focus on funding, TCCP should be culturally responsive to individual nations. I wrote that “it must encompass cultural, political, economic, and legal considerations; in other words, it should be ‘holistic’ to be meaningful and effective. It should be rooted in traditional cultural values drawn from ancestral teachings and stories which teach respect for the land and all that lives on the land, in the sky and in the waters (traditional environmental knowledge and spirituality). Those teachings inform appropriate action and are guiding philosophies as much for today’s people as those of the ancient past.”

I wrote that “functionally, TCCP should take into consideration mitigation efforts as much as possible; however, at this point adaptation efforts must be pursued with priority simply because climate change impacts are unavoidable. It should take into account that while current international efforts addressing climate change (i.e. the Kyoto Protocol and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) are focused on the actions of Member States, the voices of indigenous peoples is marginalized. They must be inserted because it is indigenous people who are more disproportionately affected by climate change as well as being vulnerable to the dysfunctional elements of the carbon trading system. We need to remember that within the global conversation of how to deal with climate change, it is the Social Greens who most represent our interests, and it is with groups that espouse this ideology that we must ally ourselves most closely.”

Six years later, we have witnessed not just the solid alignment with the Social Green movement, but indigenous peoples taking the lead in climate justice activism. The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 proved not to be responsive enough to indigenous peoples, and it was the bravery of Canadian First Nations women who gave birth to #Idle No More, now perhaps the most recognizable contingent of indigenous peoples in the world of climate justice activism.

The upcoming events in New York, however well attended and organized they turn out to be, are unlikely to produce any sweeping changes for indigenous peoples. And there may even be legitimate reasons to be leery of the NGO industrial complex driving today’s climate justice activism with whom indigenous nations are partnering. At the end of the day though, it’s all just a reminder that Fourth World/indigenous peoples must be proactive by creating and implementing their own plans for the inevitable future of a warmer world.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville) is a freelance writer and research associate at the Center for World Indigenous Studies. She was educated at the University of New Mexico and holds a bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies and a master’s degree in American Studies.



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.

Cruise to Set Sail to Investigate Ocean Acidification

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.Credit: NOAA
NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.
Credit: NOAA

By Douglas Main, Staff Writer for LiveScience

July 25, 2013 06:01pm ET

The waters off the Pacific Northwest are becoming more acidic, making life more difficult for the animals that live there, especially oysters and the approximately 3,200 people employed in the shellfish industry.

Researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will set sail Monday (July 29) on a monthlong research cruise off the U.S. and Canadian West Coast to see how ocean acidification is affecting the chemistry of the ocean waters and the area’s sea life.

Ocean acidification occurs when greenhouse-gas emissions cause carbon dioxide to accumulate in the atmosphere and become dissolved in sea water, changing the water’s chemistry and making it more difficult for coral, shellfish and other animals to form hard shells. Carbon dioxide creates carbonic acid when dispersed in water. This can dissolve carbonate, the prime component in corals and oysters’ shells.

The world’s oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution, scientists estimate.

This cruise follows up on a similar effort in 2007 that supplied “jaw-dropping” data on how much ocean acidification was hurting oysters, said Brad Warren, director of the Global Ocean Health Partnership, at a news conference today (July 25). (The partnership is an alliance of governments, private groups and international organizations.)

That expedition linked more acidic waters to huge declines in oyster hatcheries, where oysters are bred, Warren said. Oyster farms rely ona fresh stock of oysters each year to remain economically viable.

When the data came in from that cruise, it was “a huge wake-up call,” Warren said. “This was almost a mind-bending realization for people in the shellfish industry,” he said.

The new cruise will also look at how acidification is affecting tiny marine snails called pteropods, a huge source of food for many fish species, including salmon, said Nina Bednarsek, a biological oceanographer with NOAA’s Pacific Environmental Marine Laboratory.

The research will take place aboard the NOAA ship Fairweather, which will depart from Seattle before heading north and then looping back south. It will end up in San Diego on Aug. 29. During this time, scientists will collect samples to analyze water chemistry, calibrate existing buoys that continuously measure the ocean’s acidity and survey populations of animals, scientists said.

The researchers will also examine algae along the way. Ocean acidification is expected to worsen harmful algal blooms (like red tide), explosions of toxin-producing cells that can sicken and even kill people who eat oysters tainted with these chemicals, said Vera Trainer, a researcher at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

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