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Gregoire announces actions to protect state’s shellfish from ocean acidification

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed an executive order today underscoring the importance of recommendations from her Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification to address the growing problem of ocean acidification in Washington, which threatens the state’s shellfish resources and its $270 million shellfish industry. The governor is also recommending funding for a new University of Washington center to study the issue.

“A healthy ocean is critical to our health and our coastal economies,” said Gregoire. “We have learned that human caused emissions of carbon dioxide are dramatically altering the ocean’s chemistry at an alarming rate. These emissions, mostly resulting from burning fossil fuels, are now threatening our ocean ecosystems. Ocean acidification is yet another reason to quickly and significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide across the planet.”

When saltwater becomes acidic, it harms the shell-making ability of oysters, clams, scallops and mussels. It also poses a threat to other marine life and the food web. The Governor convened the panel under the auspices of her Washington Shellfish Initiative to recommend actions to respond to this threat to that state’s economy and environment.

At the announcement of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s final recommendations, the Governor was joined by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by panel members, and by a host of top science, policy and elected officials.

“Nowhere on our planet is a local response to ocean acidification more urgently and immediately needed than here in Washington State,” said Lubchenco. “Preliminary studies referenced in the report show that local sources of acidification are already affecting Puget Sound and Hood Canal. The pH levels in many of Washington’s coastal waterways are much lower than those in the adjacent open ocean. This indicates increasing risk to our shellfish industry, the health of oceans and the wealth of benefits they provide."

“The cost of responding to ocean acidification may be substantial, but it is still far less than the costs of inaction,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, Blue Ribbon Panel co-chair. Responding to ocean acidification will require a sustained effort – there’s no silver bullet solution.”

“Panel scientists tell us that local sources of acidifying pollution exacerbate decreasing pH levels caused by higher and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” added panel co-chair Jay Manning. “However, the relative importance of these local sources – mostly wastewater and stormwater containing nitrates – is not currently well understood. Our most urgent recommendation is to develop a better understanding of the magnitude of these sources, and if they prove to be significant, act immediately to reduce loading from these local sources.”

In today’s executive order, Gov. Gregoire directs the Department of Ecology and other state agencies to:

  • Advocate for reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide at global, national and regional levels;
  • Implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel, working with key federal agencies and tribal governments;
  • Work with the University of Washington and others to conduct technical analysis on the effects of ocean acidification, on the sources of local land-based sources of nutrients that may contribute to ocean acidification, and on appropriate steps to address the problem;
  • Request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begin the assessment of water quality criteria relevant to ocean acidification; and,
  • Increase understanding of ocean acidification and its consequences among policymakers, interested organizations and the public.

 

In her budget to be released in December, Gov. Gregoire will reallocate $3.3 million to fund priority actions on ocean acidification. Her budget will include funding to help shellfish hatcheries make short-term forecasts and adapt to increasingly acidic water conditions. She will also propose a new center for ocean acidification at the University of Washington to investigate impacts on native species and begin to reduce local water pollution increasing acidification. The funds would come from existing taxes collected on hazardous substances and revenue from leases on state-owned aquatic lands, including the sale of geoduck clams.

The panel recommended 42 actions in Washington’s response and selected 18 “key early actions” as essential next steps in our effort to address ocean acidification.

The most urgent action is to slow the pace of acidification by reducing the sources of ocean acidification. Global emissions are the largest source of carbon dioxide. The panel recommends Washington state continue to press for reduced carbon dioxide emissions at home and provide leadership in regional, national and international forums for larger-scale efforts.

There are land-based pollutants that enhance the effects of acidification by contributing additional carbon dioxide. The panel recommends developing a better understanding of the magnitude of these sources and then strengthening local source control programs, if needed, to achieve needed reductions in nutrient and organic carbon that enhance the ocean acidification problem.

Adaptation strategies must also be considered to ensure healthy marine ecosystems and viability of native and commercial shellfish species. Source reduction efforts can slow the pace of acidification, but likely not enough to allow marine ecosystems and the shellfish industry to adapt. The panel’s recommendations provide tools and information for resource managers and shellfish growers to adjust to changing conditions and enhance the ecosystem’s resilience.

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