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Ocean Acidification


Ocean acidification refers to the decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans caused by the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide due to the increasing amount of human emissions. The absorption of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is changing the chemistry of seawater by increasing the acidity and lowering seawater's naturally-occurring carbonate ion. These are essential to many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons. Ocean acidification reduces calcification rates in corals and may affect economically-important shellfish species such as oysters, scallops, mussels, clams and crabs.

Some organisms could benefit from ocean acidification, while others are negatively impacted. Impacts may differ from one life stage to another. The overall effect may disrupt the normal ecosystem function of many marine and coastal ecosystems.

This is a local and global problem; a consequence of man-made carbon emissions. In Puget Sound, shellfish and other living creatures are being impacted, posing a serious threat to jobs in the Washington state seafood industry.

What We're Doing

The Northwest Straits Commission provides current information to local communities on the science of ocean acidification, its impacts on fisheries and shellfisheries, and what can be done locally to address these impacts. In 2016, the Commission hosted community forums on ocean health in Jefferson and Skagit counties, bringing together researchers, local leaders and shellfish growers. The Commission also has a seat on the Washington Marine Resources Advisory Council, convened to maintain a coordinated focus on the issue of ocean acidification.

To date, the Commission has:

  • Hosted 19 public events featuring ocean acidification experts, including nine local forums on ocean health
  • Targeted outreach to local decision makers
  • Supported projects in
    • Reducing nitrate pollution in runoff, which exacerbates acidification
    • Protecting eelgrass, a natural buffer against rising acidity of seawater
    • Restoring native oysters, to enhance naturally-occurring populations and boost natural reproduction

In 2012, the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel released its report on ocean acidification, calling for action that includes public outreach, managing land-based contributions to ocean acidification, and preserving native eelgrass and kelp populations.

How We're Doing It