Monday, U.S. Senator Mark Begich joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to call for a national strategy to address ocean acidification and prevent harm to Alaska and our nation’s commercial fishing industry. The announcement came during a stop at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory to see high-tech buoys that detect changes in ocean conditions.
“Alaska’s fishermen know firsthand that we must do everything we can to protect our fish habitats from ocean acidification,” said Begich. “This is a serious issue and this bill would help NOAA plan for the future while providing valuable research to the most at risk fisheries. In my role as Chair of Subcommittee on Oceans I will fight to make sure we continue to look out for our fisherman.”
Cantwell and Begich toured NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle to see the high-tech buoys and sensors that NOAA uses to monitor ocean conditions. NOAA administers the buoys under the Integrated Ocean Observation System, or IOOS.
Begich and Cantwell announced a legislative effort to make ocean acidification monitoring a national priority. They plan to introduce legislation that would reauthorize the IOOS program and require NOAA to prioritize what fisheries and fish habitat are most at risk, so officials can determine where to deploy more sensors. The bill would create the first ever national ocean acidification monitoring plan that targets deployment of monitors to the areas under the greatest economic threat.
Ocean acidification is the result of seawater absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. That changes the ocean’s chemistry, making it more corrosive to the shells of sea creatures such as oysters, mussels and crab. Research has shown a connection between increasing ocean acidity and high mortality rates fish and crab.
But scientists don’t yet know enough about which areas are most at risk due to large gaps in monitoring technology. The buoys are equipped with sensors that can regularly check surface waters for carbon dioxide concentrations, temperature, salinity and oxygen levels, and transmit that data back to researchers. Researchers also can use “wave gliders” powered by wave motion – like “remote-controlled surfboards” — that can monitor conditions in different location.
Also joining the Senators were Dr. Jan Newton, Executive Director of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) and Principal Oceanographer, University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory; and Dr. Christopher Sabine, Director, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Director.