Cantwell’s Bipartisan Bill to Establish National Ocean Acidification Monitoring Strategy Passes Key Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Commerce Committee passed U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) bipartisan bill to enhance ocean monitoring, research and forecasting. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Wicker, Markey, Murkowski, Schatz, and Sullivan, passed out of committee by voice vote.

The Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act (S. 1886) would create a national ocean acidification monitoring strategy to prioritize investments in ocean acidification sensors to areas that need it most. The bill also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation to make investments in adaptation and mitigation research so we understand how to make our coastal economies more resilient to the threat of ocean acidification. Cantwell’s bill would also reauthorize the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observation System, or IOOS, which is our Nation’s ocean observation program.

“We must do everything we can to protect our oceans, fishing habitats and fishery jobs from ocean acidification,” said Senator Cantwell. “We’ve already seen the devastating effects on shellfish farms in the Pacific Northwest. Today’s legislation will help expand our research on the effects of ocean acidification and call on NOAA to develop new tools to help shellfish growers mitigate the impacts of ocean acidification.”

Ocean acidification results from changing ocean chemistry when seawater absorbs increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is already negatively impacting coastal economies in Washington state.  A study in Nature Climate Change identifies communities at significant risk for sustained economic losses resulting from ocean acidification’s impact on shellfish fisheries. Washington state was one of 15 states with the highest risk.

The bill would require NOAA to build upon existing models and conduct a nationwide economic vulnerability assessment to determine the impact ocean acidification would have on our economy, and our coastal ecosystems. The bill would also require NOAA to develop a strategy for the deployment of new ocean acidification sensors—based on the economic vulnerability assessment. Access to real-time ocean acidification data has been critical for shellfish farmers in Washington state. Enhanced data collection structures included in this legislation is critical for scientists to close knowledge gaps, and help us understand how ocean acidification could impact our fisheries and ecosystems. 

In 2010, Cantwell secured funding to acquire and deploy ocean acidification sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington state. Today, these sensors have been integrated into NOAA’s national ocean observing program—the IOOS program. These sensors allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real-time and close off their shellfish rearing tanks when ocean acidity is too high. Cantwell also has previously highlighted why additional research is needed to understand ocean acidification’s potential damage to critical salmon food sources – including small crustaceans.

Cantwell’s bill also includes a provision to expand the installation of high frequency radar stations, which are part of the IOOS network. Last year, Cantwell toured the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Port Angeles, where she saw demonstrations on how the Coast Guard uses high-frequency radar to assist in finding missing or distressed boaters in the mid-Atlantic. Washington state has the largest high-frequency radar gap on the West Coast – with nearly 80 percent of the state’s coastline lacking coverage. High-frequency radar also can be used to map and track oil spills, to forecast harmful algal blooms, and track water quality.

Cantwell’s bill would also improve coordination between IOOS ocean science and monitoring and the National Weather Service, which is vital in the Pacific Northwest where many of our storms originate offshore.