Keeping it basic

Acidifying oceans are a big concern for Southeast Alaska’s tribes. At the 2015 Southeast Environmental Conference, hosted by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, tribal representatives Tuesday learned more about what they could do to help fight it.

Ocean acidification is a problem only a small percentage of Americans know about, said Brad Warren.

Warren, a speaker at this year’s conference, held in Juneau, is the Director of Global Ocean Health, a National Fisheries Conservation Center program.

“It’s a threat to fish everywhere,” Warren said.

For those who may not have heard of it, ocean acidification is exactly what it sounds like. The world’s oceans are getting more acidic as they absorb up to a third of the 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year, Warren said. Carbonic acid, however, is just the start of it.

“This is the fastest change in the chemistry of the ocean that’s been documented,” he said.

It means there’s less calcium carbonate — the building blocks of shells — for shellfish to work with. Acid dissolves the shells of shellfish and pteropods, a tiny creature Warren describes as “kind of a big deal.” Pteropods are an important food source for many kinds of fish — up to 60 percent of a pink salmon’s food — and along the West Coast, more than 50 percent are already showing “severe shell dissolution,” he said.

Normal ocean pH is 8.1; 100 percent of king crabs die at slightly more acidic 7.5 pH waters within 100 days. That means if things don’t change, the Bering Sea king crab fishery could be wiped out within the century. Tanner crab are a little more resilient: in 200 days, 70 percent die in 7.5 pH water, he said.

“There’s a crisis in the shellfish industry along the West Coast,” he said. “No more ‘Deadliest Catch.’ It’s (king crab is) just not going to be there.”

“We’re treating this Earth like we have another place to go,” commented CCTHITA 2nd Vice President Rob Sanderson, in attendance.

Solutions

Fishing fleets from the Bering Sea to Iceland have reduced their fuel consumption, but that alone won’t stop the process. Industry needs to get on board as well, Warren said.

“We have got to reduce the amount of carbon we turn loose in the world,” he said.

Cap and trade programs can help reduce the amount of carbon going into the ocean; ironically, rising oceans may also offer some relief, as humans have developed a vast amount of salt water wetlands and rising oceans will create more. Tidal salt marshes absorb 10 to17 times more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests, Warren said.

Much of the work to help alleviate the issue can be done locally, Warren said. One of those things is sampling, something CCTHITA Environmental Coordinator of Native Lands and Resources Raymond E. Paddock III said CCTHITA and tribes are already working on for other projects, and will likely expand to acidification.

“Just collecting plankton samples creates a record that produces a potentially really important insight” into changes, Warren said.

Starting at last year’s conference, Paddock said, participants created working groups based on the issues that most concerned them — last year, harmful alga, climate change and transboundary mining. The United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group has been a voice on the issue over the last year. They’ve also been applying for grants for work related to those issues, and will be attending climate change adaptation training in December.

“I want to create tangible work out of the things that are being presented on,” Paddock said.

Other topics addressed at the conference, which began Monday and ends today, include clean air, derelict fishing gear, brownfields, water quality standards in Washington and transboundary mining.

“There’s nobody that doesn’t care about healthy waters and oceans,” Warren said. “It’s one thing we all agree on — we don’t want an ocean that stops making the things we love.”

• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

Info box:

Global Ocean Health’s website is http://globaloceanhealth.org/.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks has a research program on ocean acidification, available at http://www.uaf.edu/sfos/research/major-research-programs/oarc/.

More in Neighbors

t
Gimme a Smile: Cooking with the kids

There is a love triangle at my house, between parents, kids and food.

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)
Coming Out: It is Germane, Part 2

It was nothing like an epiphany. Instead, it was a slowly gathering storm.

Joab Cano
Living Growing: Strive to enter

What was the mission of Christ here on earth?

Melissa McCormick, left, accepts a check from State Farm insurance agent Robin Lonas for the Find Your Fire nonprofit as part of a State Farm outreach program. (Courtesy photo / State Farm)
Insurance company donates $10,000 to local nonprofit

It was part of a program where 100 agents selected organizations to award grants to.

Donna Leigh (Courtesy Photo)
Living & Growing: What does giving grace mean?

I’ve heard that word a lot over the past few years.

t
Thank you letter for the week of June 19

Thank you, merci, danke, gracias, gunalchéesh.

Chief Ed Mercer presents Robert Partin an award for bravery during the Juneau Police Department’s annual award ceremony on June 9, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Man talks receiving Citizen’s Award for Bravery

Snowy streets and foul weather could have been a recipe for disaster.

Tari Stage-Harvey (Courtesy photo)
Living & Growing: Healing and a hand to hold

“You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.”

If warm weather and blue skies aren't enough to tell it's summer in Juneau, Slack Tide offers up 36 other sure signs of the season. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Slack Tide: 36 Signs Summer is Back in Juneau

The return of whales, salmon and tourists… and, of course, closeout deals on steer manure.

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)
It Is Germane. Part 1

What does my recent sojourn in Florida have to do with my coming out? Reader, it is germane.

t
Living & Growing: Passing another mile marker

Though we are moving away, our hearts, our thoughts, and our prayers will always be near.