Monday May 29, 2017

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Ocean acidification

A rapidly fraying lifeline

Alaska’s coastal communities will be hard hit by ocean acidification. Stopping carbon pollution would put an end to the damage, but onshore measures can soften the impact
Sunset for an industry (Photo: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

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Ocean acidification as a result of climate change is increasingly having an impact on the livelihoods of people on Alaska’s coasts, a forthcoming paper concludes.

Previous studies have documented a connection between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and increased acidity levels in oceans. Those increasing acidity levels affect the survivability of shellfish, corals and other small creatures by preventing them from building skeletons or shells.

But such changes, according to the new study, led by America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stand to have an exaggerated impact on the communities of south-western and south-eastern Alaska.

“They rely heavily on fisheries that are expected to be most affected by ocean acidification, and have underlying factors that make those communities more vulnerable, such as lower incomes and fewer employment opportunities,” Noaa wrote in a statement released in connection with the paper’s publication online by Progress in Oceanography.

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Acocording to Noaa figures, Alaska’s $5 billion annual fishing industry supports over 100,000 jobs. Meanwhile, some 120,000 people – 17 percent of the state’s population – rely on subsistence fishing for at least some portion of their protein intake.

In addition, the agency found that fishing tourism generates $300 million in revenue each year.

“Ocean acidification is not just an ecological problem – it’s an economic problem,” said Steve Colt, an economist at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and one of the paper’s co-authors.

Noaa scientists, however, said they tried to get beyond a dollars and sense approach to the situation.

“We know these fisheries are lifelines for native communities and what we’ve learned will help them adapt to a changing ocean environment,” Jeremy Mathis, a Noaa oceanographer and the paper’s co-lead author, said.

SEE RELATED: Acid oceans, Alaskan advice

Entirely solving the problem of increasing acidity requires lowering carbon dioxide emissions. The authors realise that is unlikely, but said lawmakers could soften the blow on fisheries by addressing amplifying social problems such as unemployment, low wages and educational levels.

“The people of coastal Alaska, who have always looked to the sea for sustenance and prosperity, will be most affected,” Cold said. “But all Alaskans need to understand how and where ocean acidification threatens our marine resources so that we can work together to address the challenges and maintain healthy and productive coastal communities.”