When it comes to ocean acidification, the state of Washington is in damage-control mode. There is little doubt such acidification has — and will — take a toll on the state's economy; the question is, at what cost?
At stake is the state's $270 million shellfish industry — along with Alaska's $100 million king crab fishery, other Washington fisheries, and the economies of all states that are reliant upon the ocean for sustenance. Because of that, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, visited the Puget Sound region last week to talk about ocean acidification and legislation they are preparing in order to mitigate its impact. The plan would provide funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand a network of high-tech buoys and sensors that monitor ocean conditions.
The impetus is the fact that about 25 percent of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere settles in the ocean, and that process has been linked to decreasing pH levels in ocean water. The reduced pH levels have led to a massive die-off of oyster larvae in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, as oysters are unable to extract minerals from the water that are necessary for the formation of shells. Similar problems have been observed in Alaskan crabs and in other shellfish, and that can impact the entire marine ecosystem.
"Even the fact that salmon eat the pteropods that are now also having problems forming shells — this is a major issue for all of us," Cantwell said.
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