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State Unveils Plan To Address Rapidly Rising Acid Levels In Ocean Waters

Waves on the breakwater at the mouth of Oceanside harbor, May 22, 2018.

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Waves on the breakwater at the mouth of Oceanside harbor, May 22, 2018.

California officials unveiled a plan Thursday that calls for the state to begin taking concrete steps to deal with an ocean that’s getting more acidic.

Ocean acidification is a growing problem that researchers say is only expected to get worse as climate changes impact local ocean waters. The ocean is absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and that’s threatening California’s $45 billion ocean-based economy.

Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products said the problem was first seen in mollusks.

“The first sign we saw of this was with oysters in the Pacific Northwest,” Rudie said.

More acidic water from the deeper ocean was causing problems for young oysters trying to build their shells. When sea creatures take carbon out of the ocean, they use it to make shells like these. And that captures and holds the carbon. That’s critical because the carbon in those shells is trapped.

State officials plan to identify the full risk, reduce pollution and boost natural systems that store carbon. They will look to activate the state’s resources and engage people outside of California to work on coping strategies.

Andrew Dickson, a professor of Marine Chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said he is encouraged the state recognizes this is a problem.

Dickson said the action plan can’t quantify how much this change will affect California resources.

“There’s a need for particular studies focused on those marine organisms that are important to California," he said.

Dickson said acidification is just one of many pressures on the ocean and that makes it hard to measure the impact.

"To understand how much changing the carbon dioxide of the water will affect them, in addition to the other changes like temperature changes and maybe some additional pollution,” he said.

“It’s hard to say when and what a real impact would be." Dickson said. "We are doing so much to change the oceans that detecting the additional changes due to ocean acidification are quite complicated to be certain that’s what the cause was.”

He said the best strategy to stop ocean acidification is to stop the burning of fossil fuels.

State officials hope to slow the impact of an ocean that’s becoming more acidic before that change hurts California’s ocean-based economy.

Reported by Kris Arciaga

California officials unveiled a plan Thursday that calls for the state to begin taking concrete steps to deal with an ocean that’s getting more acidic.

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