Radio Address: Johnson says: Ocean Acidification a Real and Growing Threat

Posted: October 24, 2014 | Senator Johnson, Weekly Radio Address

Maine is blessed with almost 3500 miles of coastline.  This resource draws visitors from all over the world, and employs thousands of Mainers in tourism and in our marine-based industries.   It is hard to imagine Maine without a beautiful, and productive, waterfront.   Yet all this is being put at risk because of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, and the acid it causes, in the ocean.

Good morning, this is Senator Chris Johnson, from Lincoln County, and I serve as the Senate Chair of both the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee and the Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification.

If you haven’t heard of “ocean acidification” yet, you soon will.  Like climate change, it is the result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  As we put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a large proportion of it – up to 40% – gets dissolved into rainwater and ends up in lakes or in the ocean.  Once in the water, it reacts to form carbonic acid, making the water more acidic.

As seawater becomes more acidic, it affects marine life in a variety of ways.  In the Gulf of Maine one of the greatest impacts is the interference with the way marine organisms use calcium. This will affect a wide variety of sea life, from shellfish, which use the calcium for their shells, to some of the very smallest organisms which form the base of the food chain for many of our commercial marine species. In short, if unchecked, ocean acidification could cause some major problems for many, if not all, of Maine’s commercial fisheries.

This is not some problem for the far future, or on the other side of the world, but something that is happening here, now, and very quickly.  Over the last 250 years the oceans have become approximately 30% more acidic, reaching an historic high according to geological records. But even more concerning, carbon dioxide levels are rising at a rate many times higher than at any time in that record.  Unless we act, the level of acidity in the world’s oceans is expected to double within our lifetimes, and could eventually triple.

To give you an idea of how close to home this is hitting, according to the Island Institute, fishermen and researchers are already observing troubling signs that coastal acidification is threatening Maine’s fisheries and wildlife, including impacts on commercially important clams, mussels, and oysters.  Tests in some mudflats in Casco Bay have even registered enough acidity to dissolve clamshells.

To find out more about ocean acidification, and what we can do about it, the Legislature created the Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification.

Over the months that the Commission has been meeting, we have taken stock of what science tells us about factors contributing to ocean acidification and how it affects marine organisms. There are questions for which we don’t yet have answers, such as “how does it affect lobsters?”  It is clear however that acidification is happening right here in Maine waters, and that the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the result of human activity.

That is why I find it especially frustrating that there are corporate special interest groups  represented by some Republican candidates and fake news organizations who, instead of seeking ways to limit this increase of carbon dioxide and all the resultant problems that it causes, refuse to believe that it has any ill effects. They even urge us all to continue our destructive behavior, do nothing to help ourselves, and apparently out of loyalty to large out-of-state corporate interests, expect that we never admit any responsibility for endangering our fishing industry. I’m here to tell you that willful ignorance is not a leadership trait, and it’s not good policy for Maine any more than it was for the emperor and courtesans who refused to believe the evidence in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Thankfully the Commission will continue to work very hard in a bipartisan fashion to come up with good information, sound recommendations and proposed legislation to take positive action to reduce or prevent the harmful effects of ocean acidification.  Because how Maine policymakers and Maine people respond to the threats posed by ocean acidification will play an important role in how well Maine and our marine economy meet this challenge.

I am Senator Chris Johnson, and I thank you for listening.