West Coast states encourage worldwide fight against ocean acidification

Acidity is on the rise, threatening coastal economies, cultural resources

West Coast states called on nations at the United Nations Ocean Conference this week to take action against ocean acidification to protect vital economic and cultural resources around the world.

Representatives from Washington state and California are joining other members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification as they attend the Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City. Washington and California are representing the Pacific Coast Collaborative, an alliance among Washington, California, Oregon and British Columbia to act on climate change.

Julie Horowitz, second from left, a senior adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee, represents Washington state this week at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City. She highlighted the importance of taking action against ocean acidification. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Washington was a founding member of the ocean-acidification alliance, which launched in December 2016. Alliance members — governments, organizations, businesses and universities — have committed to taking meaningful action by crafting local or regional plans on ocean acidification. They are inviting U.N. nations to join the alliance to invest in research and monitoring of the problem as well as to explore ways to change ocean conditions, educate the public and reduce the carbon emissions causing acidification.

Scientists have determined that the ocean is 30 percent more acidic now than it was in pre-industrial times, as a result of carbon pollution. It has also absorbed more than 90 percent of the extra heat caused by this pollution. As a result, significant changes are occurring, including damage to shellfish, coral reefs and food sources for salmon.

Julie Horowitz, a senior adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee, is representing Washington at the five-day conference. She spoke about plans to fight acidification, alongside representatives from Chile, France, the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, and California, as well as Taylor Shellfish, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

The talk is part of an official side event hosted by the ocean-acidification alliance at the U.N. Ocean conference that tells the story of the U.S. West Coast shellfish industry, one of the first examples of the impacts of ocean acidification and how it could affect coastal communities.

Gov. Jay Inslee listens to Bill Dewey, right, of Taylor Shellfish Farms talk about the shellfish industry last month in Samish Bay. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Shellfish have an important place in Washington’s heritage. Tribes have harvested shellfish for generations, feeding their communities from Puget Sound and coastal shores.

Shellfish farming is also a foundation for many rural Western Washington economies. The state leads the nation in farmed shellfish production: 10,616 metric tons of oysters, clams and mussels in 2013.

Washington was the first government in the world to make official plans to combat ocean acidification, developing an action plan in 2012 to invest in research and monitoring. Inslee has called for more carbon-reducing policies to fight acidification.

Samish Bay clams are on display last month at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton. The growing problem of ocean acidification is causing damage to shellfish, coral reefs and the food sources for salmon. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Inslee has called ocean acidification “the evil twin” of climate change and says the impacts on Puget Sound and Washington’s coastal waters are costing the state’s shellfish industry tens of millions of dollars a year. Some growers have already moved some of their operations to places such as Hawaii, where the water quality is better.

By the end of this century, ocean acidity is expected to double over pre-industrial levels. Last week, a study in the peer-reviewed journal Natural Scientific Reports revealed that the waters off the Pacific Northwest coast are among the most rapidly acidifying in the world.

Fighting ocean acidification is a goal of the governor’s Washington Shellfish Initiative, a partnership among state and federal government, tribes, the shellfish aquaculture industry and nongovernment entities to promote critical clean-water commerce, elevate the role that shellfish play in keeping marine waters healthy and create family-wage jobs.

“Ocean acidification is already negatively affecting the West Coast,” Inslee said. “We know that healthy oceans sustain jobs, support coastal economies and feed billions of people. Now all of this is at risk and will cause great damage to our shellfish industry and coastal communities.”

Gov. Jay Inslee listens to Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms talk about the shellfish industry last month at the Samish Bay shellfish beds. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)