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  • Maine ocean acidification commission finalizes recommendations

    The ocean off Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Changing ocean chemistry threatens marine ecosystem, economy

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine would pursue a broad strategy to combat ocean acidification that includes greater monitoring of marine ecosystems, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and harmful runoff, mitigation efforts for localized areas and increased public awareness under recommendations finalized by a special commission Monday.

    The Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification on Commercially Harvested and Grown Species voted out the recommendations unanimously.

    The 16-member panel – the first-of-its-kind panel on the East Coast –  brought together fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists, legislators and representatives of the LePage Administration to review the science on ocean acidification and make recommendations on how Maine should address the threat that changing ocean chemistry poses to Maine’s marine ecosystem and economy.

    “We know that ocean acidification is a real threat to Maine’s marine environment and the thousands of jobs that rely on its health. Maine has too much at stake to simply wait on others to come up with a global solution. We must take steps at the state and local levels to protect our marine resources and our coastal economy,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, the House chair of the panel and the sponsor of the legislation that created it. 

    “Ocean acidification threatens an important part of Maine’s economy and coastal communities. Maine must be a leader in addressing that, and this commission’s report has good recommendations for Maine to do so,” said Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, the co-chairman of the commission.

    The commission’s recommendations offer a comprehensive approach that fall under six goals: (1) invest in Maine’s ability to monitor and investigate the effects of ocean acidification; (2) reduce emissions of carbon dioxide; (3) reduce local land-based nutrients and organic carbon contributions to acidification; (4) increase Maine’s capacity to mitigate, remediate and adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification; (5) educate and engage stakeholders, decision-makers and the public and empower them to take action; and (6) maintain a sustainable and coordinated focus on ocean acidification. 

    Specific recommendations include the development of tools to detect the onset of acidification,  public-private partnerships to collect data on nutrient loading to coastal waters, enhanced marine vegetation in bivalve areas, the use of pulverized shells to remediate acidification in mudflats and increased capacity of aquaculture hatcheries to serve as refuges for larvae that are particularly sensitive to ocean acidification.

    The recommendations will go into a report that will be submitted to the Legislature.

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is by far the greatest factor behind ocean acidification. Nutrient and carbon dioxide from land-based point and non-point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment facilities, septic failures and runoff, are additional drivers of acidification for estuary and near-shore waters.

    The combination of carbon dioxide and seawater forms carbonic acid, which impact species including clams, lobster, shrimp and cold water coral.

    Ocean acidification is taking place at a rate at least 100 times faster than at any other time in the past 200,000 years, the commission noted. The cold waters of the Gulf of Maine make it more susceptible to ocean acidification than other regions in the United States. Carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold water, making the rate of acidification faster.