California Addresses Ocean Acidification as Gov. Brown Signs A.B. 2139

Sacramento, CA-(ENEWSPF)-California took an important step toward addressing ocean acidification and hypoxia in its coastal waters this week when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2139, which calls for the creation of a task force to study how changing ocean chemistry is affecting marine life and make recommendations to policymakers.

The legislation, by Assembly Member Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), stemmed from recent findings of a research panel convened by the Ocean Protection Council — which will create and oversee the new task force — that acidification is already hurting California’s coastal marine ecosystems. That panel also recommended that the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency update their antiquated water-quality standards, a request the Center for Biological Diversity reinforced earlier this month by suing the federal agency.

“Ocean acidification in California’s coastal waters is a huge problem that needs to be addressed now. I’m glad to see California’s top political leadership taking this seriously, but we need the federal government to follow suit,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney.

Oceans become more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, interfering with the ability of shellfish and corals to turn calcium carbonate into protective shells and skeletons, among other problems. The related problem of hypoxia means less oxygen in seawater, impairing the development, reproduction and behavior of many fish species. According to a recent report published by leading scientists on the West Coast Panel on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia, current federal water-quality standards measuring pH are neither based on current science nor strong enough to protect marine life. That panel, which studied hypoxia and ocean acidification in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, was convened by the California Ocean Protection Council, which now must adopt recommendations from the new task force annually, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

“Oysters, corals, zooplankton and other marine animals — and the industries and ocean life that depend on them — need us to slow ocean acidification and its corrosive impacts now,” Jeffers said. “Halting acidification ultimately requires that we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions globally, but there are steps we can take locally to offset the impacts of acidification in the short run, such as changing how we regulate coastal pollution and runoff.”

The oceans currently absorb approximately 22 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution on average every day, which is drastically changing ocean chemistry. Ocean acidification has already caused massive oyster die-offs in the Pacific Northwest, and off the coast of California, ocean acidification has severely eroded the shells of small plankton called pteropods, an important base of the marine food web. Corals worldwide are endangered by ocean acidification and some are already growing sluggishly, while other species, such as clownfish, suffer brain damage and behavioral problems as a result of corrosive waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.