Acid grip


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
September 1, 2009

A change in the chemistry of the oceans was once thought impossible. But now a consensus of oceanographers worldwide now believes it is true — and that little can stop it from progressing. Ocean acidification, a direct result of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human industrial activity, is now part of the public consciousness and may be the impetus world leaders need to adopt stricter environmental standards. If dying oceans aren’t enough to effect change on a global scale, perhaps nothing will be.

The seafood industry is watching with interest and cautious scrutiny; some with a degree of fear. The sources I interviewed for the Top Story in the upcoming September issue of SeaFood Business, Looking down the line, certainly don’t have their heads in the sand about climate change and how it may impact their businesses. But questions linger about the prognosis that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) of Woods Hole, Mass., unveiled in June.

In 50 years, WHOI predicted potentially irreversible changes in ocean chemistry could cause U.S. wholesale shellfish revenues to drop by 25 percent, a loss of up to USD 187 million (EUR 131 million) annually. How the researchers generated this projection is complicated business, but the scientific community is largely marching in step with such grim conclusions. 

I recently spoke to Sven Huseby, star and co-producer of “A Sea Change,” a documentary he and his wife Barbara Ettinger filmed to earn ocean acidification a wider audience. Watching it, you discover Huseby’s obsession with pteropods, tiny shell-forming creatures that are part of the marine food web’s foundation and on the brink of catastrophe because of rising acidity in seawater.

The film’s U.S. television debut is on the Planet Green network on 26 September, but it was first viewed on three continents on the inaugural World Oceans Day, on 8 June. It not only explores the problem of ocean acidification but also potential solutions and the relatively small sacrifices necessary for them to succeed.

“Only known and observed for the last decade, [ocean acidification] is one of the great externalities of our modern lifestyle,” Huseby told me. “Over the last two centuries we have been building up this CO2 debt. Now is the time when this issue needs to be addressed. It will be too late if it is left to future generations.”

When Huseby says “now,” he really means this December, when COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, begins in Copenhagen, Denmark (the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 is widely considered to be toothless). Hopefully, UN member nations can finally get a firm grip on climate change and accept emissions limits that might slow the progress of ocean acidification.

Reducing bycatch and eliminating excessive and illegal fishing won’t solve this riddle; if all seafood buyers adopted a sustainable buying policy it wouldn’t make a difference. But that doesn’t mean the industry can’t get involved in the most important sustainability movement the world has ever seen. Huseby, whose parents once worked in an Alaska salmon cannery, urges all seafood companies to educate themselves, share their knowledge, use their political influence and support clean energy.

“We have to realize together that there is urgency in this call for change,” said Huseby. The seafood industry, he adds, is “well positioned to be part of the solution.” 

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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