Plankton specimens collected during the pioneering 1872–76 expedition of the HMS Challenger hold valuable insights about modern-day climate change: Their shells are up to 76% thicker than those of today's foraminifera, which are thinning in our increasingly acidic oceans.
In a recent peer-reviewed, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded study published in Science of the Total Environment, populations of our beloved crustacean in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia were found to have shell damaged linked to an increasingly acidic Pacific.
The state commission tasked with studying ocean acidification and its regional impact - particularly in relation to the aquaculture industry - held its first meeting Friday in Woods Hole with a sobering presentation on the phenomenon.
Back in the day, we knew oceans were imperiled by pollution and overfishing. Then we learned about climate change. Then acidification. Now, plastic pollution.
The wrong way on right whales<p>We've known about overfishing and ocean pollution for more than a century, driving animals like North Atlantic right whales to the brink of extinction and legislating salt water pollution <a href="https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h735.html" target="_blank">since Chester A. Arthur was President</a>.</p><p>Right whales were made to be killed, whalers thought. They hugged the coast, moved slowly, yielded impressive amounts of flesh and oil, and their carcasses floated when killed, making them the "right" whales for ancient mariners to hunt. Get it?</p><p>By 1750, right whales were hard to find. By 1890, the last whalers pretty much gave up. But it still took nearly a half century more before a global ban offered some protection for them. Today, a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/25/whales-right-atlantic-conservation-sea-fishing-extinct" target="_blank">few hundred right whales live near the extinction tipping point,</a> subject to lethal strikes by large vessels and entanglement in fishing gear.</p>
Climate problems<p>While papers warning of the greenhouse effect date back to the 19<sup>th</sup> Century, it's only the last three decades that we've started to fully understand oceans' role in mitigating climate change by absorbing heat and heat-trapping gases.</p><p>And we've seen climate change attacking ocean ecosystems: Mass dieback of corals, migration of sea life as ocean temperatures change, the threat to coastal wetlands and barrier islands from storms and sea level rise, and more.</p><p>And there are more climate-linked problems with which we're just coming to terms.</p><p>The first definitive papers determining changes in oceanic pH were published in 2003, and the term <a href="https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/ocean-acidification" target="_blank">"ocean acidification</a>" came into use. All that carbon that the oceans absorb was changing the very chemistry of the oceans. With climate change, it's one of the evil twins of fossil fuel burning. The earliest signs of ocean acidification impact are showing up in places like Puget Sound.</p>
Plastic plague<p>In 1965, an expedition researching plankton off the Irish coast <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47914580" target="_blank">scooped up a plastic bag</a> instead. As plastic bags, packaging, and just about everything else took over our lives (from 2 million tons of plastic produced worldwide in 1950 to 381 million tons in 2015), landfills became stuffed with the stuff.</p><p>But a portion of that waste stream made it to waterways – much of it reaching the oceans. From microscopic bits and beads to miles-long driftnets, plastic filled the bellies of fish and literally grabbed seabirds by the throat. The volume of ocean borne plastic continues to rise, in part because plastic is designed to last virtually forever. </p><p> Phew. </p><p>Is there any good news in all this? </p>
Marine reserves<p> A century after the big push for U.S. National Parks, a global effort for the saltwater equivalent has yielded great results. Massive marine reserves, with limited or no commercial activity permitted, have been set up around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean; the Ross Sea in the southern oceans; and around Easter Island, the Kermadec Islands, and Palau in the Pacific, among others. One survey lists 7.78 percent of our oceans under some form of protection. </p>
Satellite monitoring<p>With limits on exploitation of vast ocean areas, enforcing those limits has relied on the growing sophistication of satellites to police illegal fishing.</p><p>NGO's like the West Virginia-based SkyTruth have led the way toward establishing an eye in the sky. </p><p>Now, a network of 36 low-cost satellites promises to let the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/08/no-place-to-hide-for-illegal-fishing-fleets-as-surveillance-satellites-prepare-for-lift-off/" target="_blank">satellite fish-cops</a> go global. The gaudiest arrests to date have been in Palau's National Marine Sanctuary, where nine Vietnamese boats were captured and burned to the waterline in 2015.</p>
Polar protection<p>The <a href="https://www.nsf.gov/geo/opp/antarct/anttrty.jsp" target="_blank">Antarctic Treaty</a> has protected the frozen continent from commercial exploitation and military conflict for 60 years. Along with the Montreal Protocol, which halted the worst of our assaults on the ozone later, it's the most effective global conservation pact in history.</p><p>Similar efforts are underway in the melting Arctic, where nations have agreed to <a href="https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/1212/An-Arctic-pact-shows-what-s-possible" target="_blank">hold off on new fisheries for 16 years.</a></p>
Plastic reckoning<p>2018 was the year when we at least came to grips with the enormity of the ocean plastics crisis. Solutions?</p><p>There are many grassroots efforts on, for example, municipal bans on plastic straws – all well-intentioned, but may be <a href="https://slate.com/business/2019/09/plastic-straw-bans-paper-culture-war.html" target="_blank">little more than a distraction</a>. And yes, there's a backlash, with some conservative groups seizing on a snide <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/07/19/743683131/trump-seizes-on-soggy-paper-straws-as-campaign-issue-make-straws-great-again" target="_blank">"Make Straws Great Again"</a> countermovement.</p><p>I've long been open to the possibility that, despite the morsels of progress, we're screwed. But I'm considerably more convinced that surrendering against such long odds is a moral failure. </p><p>So, fight on, shall we?</p>
Scientists have discovered that unlike wild oysters, farmed oysters bred for fast growth and disease resistance are able to adapt their shell growth to be more resilient to ocean acidification, according to a new study.
Learn about the laundry list of challenges currently facing corals and coral reefs, as well as why (and how) we might want to conserve and protect them.
Resumption of normal life in the United States under a herd immunity approach would result in an enormous death toll by all estimates.
Researchers find people's exposure to PFAS and certain flame retardants could be significantly reduced by opting for healthier building materials and furniture.
Fish exposed to harmful contaminants can pass on health issues such as reproductive problems to future generations that had no direct exposure.
An expanding wood pellet market in the Southeast has fallen short of climate and job goals—instead bringing air pollution, noise and reduced biodiversity in majority Black communities.