Congresswoman Pingree Introduces Bill on Ocean Acidification to Aid Coastal Communities

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D) At Waterfront Press Conference Today

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D) At Waterfront Press Conference Today

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,139)

US Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D) announced this afternoon that last month she introduced a bill  requiring NOAA to identify communities that have a high economic dependency on ocean resources and  how ocean acidification would affect them. The press conference occurred on the Portland waterfront behind Pierce Atwood and was attended by and supported by numerous conservation groups in the area.

“We don’t know what the impact of ocean acidification is on our ocean.  I’m thrilled that our Maine legislation has shown interest in the subject,” said Congresswoman Pingree.  “It doesn’t mean that lobsters are in jeopardy. It’s not a word that people think about when they hear it.”

Ocean Acidification (OA) is a product of increased carbon dioxide (C02) in the atmosphere.  Much of the CO2 released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas pollution gets absorbed by oceans, where it makes the water more acidic.  This makes it harder for clams, mussels and oysters to fully form their shells. The impacts on lobsters is less clear, but there is serious concern that acidification coupled with warming waters could have a significant impact on lobster populations.

Pingree’s bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) to study the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification on coastal communities.  Under this legislation, the Secretary of Commerce would be required to conduct studies to identify which communities are most dependent on ocean resources and how acidification would affect them if valuable industries like the lobster fishery were impacted.

“The first step toward meeting this threat is having good information and, frankly, that is lacking when it comes to the seriousness of the acidification threat.  We’ve spent a lot of time talking about rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change, but we need to make sure our eyes are open to the effects of acidification,” Pingree said.

Joe Payne, Casco Baykeeper used dry ice to demonstrate how carbon dioxide changes the acid (ph) levels of sea water.  Payne remarked, “Sea creatures whose shells are made of calcium carbonate can dissolve in more acidic water.  We have found that   some clam flats in Casco Bay have dramatically low phs, phs that will dissolve clam spat.  Coastal acidification is here, right now, and soon we’ll be seeing the effects on claims and on the families that depend on harvesting them for their livelihood.” Earlier this month in Pittsburgh, PA., Payne was awarded the 2014 River Hero award at an annual conference called the River Rally, hosted by the River Network and the Waterkeepers Alliance.

Joe Payne, Casco Baykeeper of the Friends of Casco Bay

Joe Payne, Casco Baykeeper of the Friends of Casco Bay

Researchers say ocean acidification is one of the biggest challenges Maine will face in the coming years.  Maine’s economy depends more on marine economy  than any other state in the northeast.  Many of the commercially important species in Maine live in coastal and estuarine regions, which are particularly vulnerable to acidification.  And scientists believe the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to ocean acidification and could reach critical thresholds more quickly than the southeastern seaboard or Gulf of Mexico because it is less buffered and because cold water holds more carbon dioxide.