Author: Mark J. Spalding, President
This week I was lucky to be part of an Ocean Acidification (OA) Roundtable co-hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory and Ocean Conservancy in Sarasota, Florida. We have written many times about the scientifically well-established threat of OA. As Dr. Chris Langdon said at the meeting, “ocean acidification is not a future threat in Florida, it’s a present problem, and it’s only going to get worse.” Florida is home to the third largest reef tract and the only one in North America. The economic value to Florida of its reef system is in the billions of dollars.
I admit it was hard to sit in a room with the blinds down knowing that the beautiful waters of Sarasota Bay were just outside the windows where seabirds, wading herons and egrets, and pelicans were hunting for food in the seagrass shallows. However, inside the room were gathered a diverse array of scientists, government officials, educators, and conservation organization representatives to talk about how ocean acidification is affecting the corals and other marine resources of Florida. Sarah Cooley, Science Outreach Coordinator for the Ocean Conservancy and her colleagues deserve credit for pulling together a great roundtable discussion contingent. Dr. Michael Crosby, CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory, spoke passionately about Mote’s commitment to helping not only the state, and countries around the world, better understand and address the effects of an increasingly acidic ocean.
Florida has a special license plate “Protect Our Reefs” which directs all of the funding to the study of reef resilience and restoration in Florida. Mote Marine scientists Dave Vaughn, Erinn Muller, Kim Ritchie, and Emily Hall are among those working very hard to measure how corals can be helped to withstand changing ocean chemistry. Billy Causey, the Southeast Regional Director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talked about how important the proper management of sanctuaries is in the face of threats such as ocean acidification— effects he believes he has been seeing since the early 1980’s. State Representative Holly Raschein has championed improving wastewater treatment throughout the Keys— an important investment to help promote healthy reef systems and allow them to do their part for enhancing fish populations, reducing storm vulnerability, and providing recreational opportunities. She spoke to us at lunch about the economic value of the iconic reefs of the Florida Keys— and of course, her own personal connection to the amazing resources of the Keys as she pushes others in the state legislature to recognize their value.
A number of speakers spoke about the connection between healthy seagrass meadows and stabilized pH— not all the data is in, but seagrass meadows do have a strong role to play. As nursery for fish, sea horses, and other critters, as carbon storage (Blue Carbon), and as seafloor stabilizers, healthy seagrass meadows play a role in the everyday health of our coastal waters. In fact, a $300 million wastewater improvement project not only drastically increased seagrass meadow coverage in Sarasota Bay, it increased fish and other populations— resulting in billions of dollars of economic value to the region. As one speaker said of a similar comprehensive investment in Tampa Bay, “The headline could be 30 square miles of new seagrass meadows. But the real headline should be ’13 Million More Fish!’ ” Now that’s the kind of return on investment we like to see!
“Dense seagrass meadows shown to increase minimum, maximum and mean pH values” – ongoing experiments with restoration of corals and collocating restoration of seagrass is leading to some strong indications that seagrass helps locally mitigate the decline in pH in a way that helps protect corals.
At the end of the day, we had not solved the problem. But everyone in the room learned something new, and learned who was working on what in the state of Florida. Furthermore, we had a common set of messages and activities to attach to our existing activities in Florida to help further understanding and collaboration of this ubiquitous problem. For us at The Ocean Foundation, we’d like to see every coastal state strive to truly understand the potential effects of ocean acidification on their economies. And then, we would like to see them implement comprehensive strategies to fill any information gaps, ensure a sound basis for future understanding, and support water quality monitoring and water quality improvement projects to help ensure that cleaner waters were flowing into our coastal areas. Our Blue Carbon SeaGrass Grow offsets, and our Friends of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network initiatives are just two of the ways we are supporting community organizations in these efforts.
It was great to be in the Gulf with our Florida colleagues. It is always a good reminder of how many people are working so hard to address the big challenges we face, just as listening to seabirds cry while I gaze at the sun setting over the Gulf waters reminds me of why we all do it.