The federal government needs to pay more attention to what’s often referred to as “the other carbon dioxide problem” – the acidification of the oceans – to help stave off widespread damage to seafood, tourism and storm protection, according to a new federal report.
The report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog, concluded that federal officials have made some progress implementing a 2009 law on acidification. But they haven’t done enough.
For example, the GAO said, an interagency working group chaired by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been established, as required. And it has developed a research and monitoring plan that outlines steps to better understand ocean acidification. But the agencies involved have yet to implement several of the law’s requirements, including those dealing with the budget necessary to implement a research and monitoring plan.
The GAO concluded: “Until greater clarity is provided on the entity responsible for coordinating the next steps in the federal response to ocean acidification, completing important actions, such as implementing the research and monitoring plan, will be difficult.”
The full report can be accessed here.
Why’s it matter?
Left unchecked, the acidification of the oceans could have a major impact on marine species and ecosystems. That, in turn, could disrupt the economy or culture of some communities – hurting coastal fishing or tourism, for example, the report said.
According to the GAO, scientists estimate oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans over the past 200 years. The rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the focus of much of the ongoing climate change debate, and as carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere goes up more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans. It reacts with water to form carbonic acid.
“The current rate of acidification is believed to be faster than at any point in at least the last 20 million years,” the GAO said.
That could have an impact on the ability of mollusks – oysters, mussels – to grow shells, and it could hurt coral reefs that help protect coastal communities from storm flooding.