Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia: a Regional approach with the Pacific Coast Collaborative

Coastal Oregon and the west coast are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are absorbed into our oceans and change the ocean’s chemistry by decreasing the pH, causing increased acidity. Naturally occurring seasonal upwelling of waters from deep in the ocean bring CO2 rich waters to the surface and exacerbates this acidification phenomenon. In these highly acidic environments there is less carbonate, a component of seawater, for many sea animals to use in their formation. Some examples of impacted sea animals include oysters, clams, mussels, corals and some plankton. OA is already negatively impacting Oregon’s economy due to failed shellfish larval production, namely at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. With significant impacts already occurring to larval shellfish and plankton species, scientists are also concerned about amplified impacts to species higher in the food web that prey on these organisms. While wild fishery population impacts have not yet been linked to OA, as OA and hypoxic zones increase in frequency and intensity, experts anticipate that linkages will emerge.

It is with this knowledge and understanding that managers and scientists from Oregon joined their counterparts from Washington, California, and British Columbia in Seattle in mid-April. The meeting, convened by the Pacific Coast Collaborative, was intended to build lines of communication and collaboration among ocean decision makers in state, federal, and tribal governments and scientists on the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel. Meeting attendees worked together to identify the state of the science from across the region, and to join forces to address OA. The meeting included science presentations and management brainstorming about OA impacts and adaptation strategies. Between June and October 2015 the West Coast OA and Hypoxia Science Panel will be releasing their findings for OA and hypoxia on the west coast. Moving forward, meeting attendees have agreed to translate these findings into actionable management decisions to build a more robust and effective state, federal, and tribal effort to understand, adapt, and build resiliency to OA and hypoxia and to determine additional needs for research and monitoring at a regional scale.

I was able to not only attend this meeting, but assist in the planning, conducting, and post-meeting follow-up actions. It was clear at the meeting that all attendees have a deep concern for the causes of OA and its impacts. Changing ocean chemistry will undoubtedly continue to be a focus for ocean resource managers and scientists in the coming years as CO2 concentrations increase in the atmosphere and the ocean, and pH continues to drop.