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Save the Fish: Stop Ocean Acidification

FishOcean acidification is almost an irreversible change in the water’s chemical composition caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which dissolves in water, producing carbonic acid . According to a report from the Royal Society of London, a concerted effort to return the oceans’ pH to pre-industrial levels could take ten thousand years. With scarce research on effective treatments to ocean acidification, there is no telling how restoring—or failing to restore—the pH balance could affect ocean ecology and climate. What is certain is that marine ecosystems are fundamentally altered if their environment no longer contains the same chemical compositions they were built upon; thus, changes can harm coral reefs and diminish food supplies for various fish populations.

Tomorrow, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Committee on Science and Technology will host a hearing on H.R. 4174: The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM) Act. Representative Thomas Allen’s (D-ME) sponsorship of this bill follows Senator Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NY) parallel legislation, S. 1581: FOARAM Act of 2007, proposed almost exactly a year a go today. However, it was just recently that Lautenberg’s S.1581 was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar for a Senate vote.

The FOARAM bills in the House and Senate take into account the imminent and long-term threats of greenhouse emissions and industrial pollution; an increasing amount of carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the oceans. The bills take the first step to building a larger movement on ocean acidification awareness; they establish outreach activities, educational opportunities, and an incentive-based monitoring system of acidic levels in the ocean. They also establish grants for research projects to explore many of the unknown effects of ocean acidification. Under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, FOARAM requires federal agencies to collaborate on strategic ocean research with public and private organizations.

Acidification monitoring will help curb faster paced increases in acidity and potential consequences for the ocean’s vast natural resources. Scientists can monitor reef habitats that protect marine ecosystems and prevent their destruction by hurricanes and tropical storms. Organisms being monitored for their environment’s acidification fluctuations will help researchers understand species-specific physiological responses and develop strategies for what can be done to prevent harm to wildlife.

Bi-partisan support the Senate and House versions of FOARAM brings an auspicious vision for future congressional resolutions on water policy. Last year Amy Carroll, a Republican aide with the House Science and Technology Committee, commented (subscription) during the Capital Hill Oceans Week: “This is a good year, and a good Congress for oceans issues.” Amy Fraenkel, senior Democratic counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “The House is becoming more active on these issues…the administration is also stepping up in this Congress in a way they haven’t before.”

The panelists at tomorrow’s hearing will address the above issues and beyond. Dr. Scott Doney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will discuss how the current and future research on ocean acidification can lead to increased marine source management efforts. Mr. Brad Warren, a policy with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and technical advisor for many seafood suppliers and producers, will discuss the effects ocean acidification on the world’s seafood industry. With America boasting the world’s third largest seafood industry, Congress has another reason to pay special attention to FOARAM. Whether or not the natural resource losses caused by acidification will force Congress to move on this issue is unclear, but this threat is too long-lasting to stall another year.

Image: flickr.com/sam_and_ian

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