Cantwell: On Earth Day, We Must Not Forget Our Oceans

Cantwell Chairs Commerce Subcommittee hearing on ocean acidification; National Academies of Science releases report that says ocean chemistry is changing at an "unprecedented rate and magnitude"

WASHINGTON, DC – Ocean chemistry is changing at an “unprecedented rate and magnitude” due to manmade carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new report released today, the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, at a hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The report by the National Academies of Science’s National Research Council was made public at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard subcommittee. It says that more research is needed but presents scientific findings indicating that a more acidic ocean could dissolve the shells of the tiny organisms that make up the base of the ocean’s food chain. Ocean acidification and ocean dead zones already threaten the entire shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest by giving rise to dangerous bacteria that hinder natural reproduction. Carbon dioxide emissions, the report states, lead to ocean acidification, and ocean acidification has demonstrated impacts on marine organisms and threatens “natural resources of value to society,” including coral reefs, fisheries, and protected species.

“While more research is needed, there is a clear link between carbon emissions and the resulting impact on the chemistry of the world’s oceans,” said Senator Cantwell.  “While some damage has already been done, we can slow down this process by ending our dangerous overreliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to cleaner, more diverse energy sources.  This effort has been one of my top priorities during my Senate career, and I will keep fighting to craft a responsible, effective, and bipartisan solution to our nation’s energy and climate challenges.”

Senator Cantwell along with Senator Collins (R-ME) introduced a climate bill in December 2009 that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 83 percent by 2050. The Cantwell-Collins Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act (S.2877) would establish a predictable price on carbon that would accelerate the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy while spurring job growth, protecting consumers from energy price increases, and reducing global warming pollution.

“On Earth Day, while people think about the health of planet Earth, we must not forget about the oceans.  Earth Day is also Oceans Day,” Senator Cantwell said. “While our oceans may seem fine, when you look below the surface as our scientists are doing, you can see that all is not well.  Even though these changes are occurring out of sight and below the surface of the ocean, we’re starting to see some very real and worrying signs of damage, particularly off the coast of Washington state.”

Senator Cantwell has long fought for additional scientific knowledge on the impacts of ocean acidification, as well as a nation-wide program to address the problem. Cantwell co-sponsored the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act and worked to enact the bill into law last March. The legislation established the nation’s first comprehensive research program to specifically study ocean acidification. The report released today by the National Research Council of the National Academies concludes that with this program, the federal government has taken “positive initial steps” in responding to the nation’s long-term needs in the emerging field of ocean acidification.

“Like climate change, ocean acidification is a growing global problem that will intensify with continued CO2 emissions and has the potential to change marine ecosystems and affect benefits to society,” the report states. “Although ocean acidification research is in its infancy, there is already growing evidence of changes in ocean chemistry and ensuing biological impacts.”

Today’s hearing included the following witnesses: Sigourney Weaver, actress and spokesperson; Dr. James Barry, Senior Scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and member of the National Academies Ocean Acidification Panel; Donny Waters, fisherman and former president of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance; Mr. Tom Ingram, Executive Director of Diving Equipment and Marketing Association; and Dr. John Everett, President of Ocean Associates, Inc.

For more information on today’s hearing, including a video webcast, see the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee website.