Equipping Scientists and Communities
How The Ocean Foundation Builds Ocean Acidification Resilience Around the Globe
Across the globe, ocean chemistry is changing fast. As the ocean becomes more acidic, marine life and the communities that depend on it can’t easily adapt.
Mitigating ocean acidification is critical. Our International Ocean Acidification Initiative supports scientists, policymakers, and communities by monitoring and analyzing ocean chemistry, engaging with partners, and helping enact legislation. We work to advance global OA frameworks and increase access to tools that allow scientists to understand and respond to a changing ocean.
We strive to ensure every country has a robust monitoring and mitigation strategy, driven by local experts to address local needs. Our Initiative is how we help build the science, policy and technical capacity of practitioners worldwide and in their home countries.
GOA-ON in a Box
The GOA-ON in a Box is a low-cost kit used for collecting weather-quality ocean acidification measurements. These kits have been distributed to scientists in sixteen countries in Africa, Pacific Small Island Developing States, and Latin America.
pCO2 to Go
The ocean is changing, but what does that mean for the species that call it home? And in turn, how do we respond to those impacts we will feel as a result? For the issue of ocean acidification, oysters have become both the canary in the coal mine and the motivation for driving the development of new tools to help us content with this change. In 2009, oyster growers along the west coast of the U.S. experienced massive die offs in their hatcheries and in natural brood stock.
The nascent ocean acidification research community took on the case. Through careful observation, they found that young shellfish have difficulty forming their early shells in the seawater along the coast. In addition to ongoing acidification over the global surface ocean, the west coast of the U.S. — with its upwelling of low pH waters and local acidification caused by excessive nutrients — is ground zero for some of the most significant acidification on the globe.
In response to this threat, some hatcheries moved to more favorable locations or installed state-of-the-art water chemistry monitoring systems.
But in many regions around the globe, shellfish farms that provide food and jobs don’t have access to the tools necessary to combat the effects of ocean acidification on their industry.
Enter a challenge from Program Officer Alexis Valauri-Orton to Dr. Burke Hales, a chemical oceanographer known world-wide for creating OA monitoring systems: build a low-cost, hand-held sensor that will allow hatcheries to measure the chemistry of their incoming seawater and adjust it to create more favorable conditions. Out of that was born the pCO2 to Go, a sensor system that fits in the palm of a hand and provides instant readouts of the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater (pCO2).
Image: Dr. Burke Hales uses the pCO2 to Go to measure the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in a sample of seawater collected from a beach along Resurrection Bay, AK. Culturally and commercially-important species such as littleneck clams live in this environment, and the handheld design of the pCO2 to Go allows it to move from the hatchery to the field to monitor what species are experiencing in their natural habitat.
Unlike other handheld sensors, such as pH meters, the pCO2 to Go produces results at the required accuracy needed to measure important changes in ocean chemistry. With a few other easy-to-accomplish measurements, hatcheries can learn what their young shellfish are experiencing in the moment and take action if needed.
One way hatcheries can help their young shellfish survive past the most vulnerable early stages is by “buffering” their seawater.
This counteracts ocean acidification and makes it easier for shells to form. Buffering solutions are created with an easy-to-follow recipe that uses small amounts of sodium carbonate (soda ash), sodium bicarbonate (the active compound in Alka-Seltzer tablets), and hydrochloric acid. These reagents break down into ions that are already abundant in seawater. So, the buffering solution does not add anything unnatural.
Using the pCO2 to Go and a laboratory software application, staff at a hatchery can calculate the quantity of buffering solution to add to their tanks. Thus, inexpensively creating more-optimal conditions that are stable until the next water change. This method has been used by the same large hatcheries that first saw the effects of reduced pH on their larvae. The pCO2 to Go and its application will provide lesser-resourced hatcheries with the same opportunity to successfully rear their animals well into the future. The process for buffering tanks, along with instructions for the different use cases of this new sensor, is included in a manual that accompanies the pCO2 to Go.
An important partner in this work is the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute (APMI) in Seward, Alaska.
APMI organizes an ocean acidification sampling program and measures samples collected in Native Villages across southcentral Alaska on an expensive tabletop chemistry instrument called a Burke-o-Lator. Using this experience, lab manager Jacqueline Ramsay led tests of the sensor and the associated app, including comparing sample values with the Burke-o-Lator to confirm whether the uncertainty of readings obtained by the pCO2 to Go is within the desired range.
Image: Jacqueline Ramsay, manager of Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute’s Ocean Acidification Research Laboratory, uses the pCO2 to Go to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in a sample of water collected from the hatchery’s seawater system. Jacqueline is an experienced user of the Burke-o-Lator, a highly-precise yet highly-costly instrument to measure ocean chemistry, and provided early feedback on the performance of the pCO2 to Go from both the perspective of a hatchery staff member as well as an ocean chemistry researcher.
TOF plans to deploy the pCO2 to Go at hatcheries all over the globe, providing a cost-effective way for vulnerable shellfish industries to continue to produce young shellfish despite ongoing acidification. This effort is a natural evolution of our GOA-ON in a Box Kit — another example of delivering high quality, low-cost tools to enable our partners to understand and respond to ocean acidification.