Jessie Turner OA Alliance, International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification
Ocean and climate are intrinsically linked. The ocean is a major driver and amplifier to our climate system and the ocean is impacted by changes to our climate. As project manager of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance), I’ve thought a lot about how to communicate climate-ocean impacts to broader audiences, including policy and decision makers. Ocean acidification (OA) is a direct result of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions and is altering the chemical balance of seawater that marine life depends upon for survival. Increasing acidification combined with other climate-change driven changes in ocean conditions, including warmer temperatures and reduced oxygen levels, is having significant, adverse impacts on marine species and ecosystems.
Communities are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change to fisheries and aquaculture, food security, economies and livelihoods and cultural practices and traditions. These impacts will worsen in the future without urgent action.
The OA Alliance brings together governments and organizations from across the globe dedicated to taking urgent action to protect coastal communities and livelihoods from the threat of ocean acidification and other climate-ocean impacts. Over 100 members represent a wide diversity of national, state, municipal, and sovereign tribal, indigenous, and First Nation governments along with many dedicated affiliate partners like NGOs, seafood industry leaders, and local academia.
We were created in 2016 by the US state governments of California, Oregon, Washington and the provincial government of British Columbia, Canada, in direct response to some of the first observed impacts of ocean acidification on oyster hatchery production across the North American West Coast during the mid-2000s. This was a significant problem, because the US West Coast shellfish industry is estimated to directly employ 3,200 people and annually contributes more than $270 million to the region’s economy. Additionally, harvesting shellfish, for sustenance or ceremonial purposes, is incredibly important for the many tribal governments and indigenous communities across the region.
OA Alliance members are leading discussions across climate and ocean platforms, ensuring that climate and ocean commitments, policies and communications accurately reflect their interdependence.
Just as some ocean acidification science is in the beginning stages, policy response and management discussions are also in the beginning stages, which can be a challenging place to start discussions from when there is not a lot of precedent to look to. This is why early and frequent collaborations across government, scientists and impacted communities at a state and regional level is so critical for overcoming challenges and learning from those regions that have started to tackle the issue and plan for future impacts.
Often, governments already have climate action plans and adaptation measures, coral reef monitoring and restoration strategies or other ocean ecosystem management policies in place, but they don’t have a lot of information about ocean acidification. It’s important to share examples of ocean acidification being incorporated into existing management strategies and monitoring systems including efforts related to ocean observations, water quality, stormwater, wastewater or other sources of pollution or land-based run-off.
Decision makers are curious to learn more about the potential impacts to species that are important within their own region, like salmon, shrimp and haddock, for example, in the United Kingdom. The more information that scientists and policy makers have about the variability of ocean and coastal waters locally, the better.
In the UK, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is a world leader of ocean acidification research and has been instrumental in developing the understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment. Additionally, PML is working to communicate the impacts of ocean acidification, raising awareness and inspiring action at the highest political levels.
This influence has culminated in ocean acidification research informing international emissions targets, with the significant inclusion of ocean ecosystems in the UN Paris Agreement and the development of a UN Sustainable Development Goal on ocean acidification. PML is helping to ensure the UK meets international obligations including as a founding partner of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON, goa-on.org) and by delivering its North East Atlantic Hub (tinyurl.com/ycfc2jm9).
Building bridges between ocean and climate policy leads, ecosystem managers, scientists and the public plays an important role in facilitating the actions needed to protect ocean resources and coastal communities. It’s been a privilege to work with so many dedicated and passionate actors who all have a role to play and, through the OA Alliance, help to focus discussion around a common goal – a respected, healthy, vibrant, and productive ocean.
Jessie Turner is the Project Manager for the OA Alliance, helping to set its strategic direction, develop annual programming, establish partnerships across a wide variety of disciplines and coalitions, and support members in the development of practicable and implementable adaptation and resiliency strategies.
More information: OAAlliance.org
This article was first published in 2020 in Vol 125 of the NAEE journal which had a marine theme. The journal is available free to members.