This past week my deputy Marie Damour traveled to Nelson for a workshop on ocean acidification which our Embassy co-sponsored with the New Zealand government, the NZ seafood industry and the Gordon & Betty Moore foundation. The workshop, titled “Future Proofing New Zealand’s Shellfish Aquaculture: Monitoring and Adaptation to Ocean Acidification,” was intended to respond to what Secretary of State John Kerry describes as the “economic, environmental, and policy concerns created by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and the resulting acidification of our oceans.”
The two-day conference brought together more than 60 shellfish experts to share their knowledge in order to help identify ways to protect New Zealand’s NZ$ 350 million (US$ 285 million) per year aquaculture industry from the effects of climate change. The agenda was organized around two topics identified as top priorities during the 2012 session of the N.Z.-U.S. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation – (1) Climate Change Monitoring, Research, and Services in the Pacific, and (2) Marine and Ocean Research.
Just as climate change has evolved from a purely scientific discussion into a set of significant economic and security concerns, ocean acidification has quickly evolved from a theoretical exercise into a major economic threat. Just looking at the United States, for example, one of every six jobs is marine-related, and more than one-third of the Gross National Product originates in coastal areas.
In 2007, shellfish hatcheries in Oregon and Washington State lost nearly 80% of their production as a result of ocean acidification. The coastal waters in both States abruptly shifted from a life-sustaining habitat to a dead zone where certain marine life could not survive, leaving a US$ 300 million industry and more than 2,000 workers and their families grappling with disaster.
The 2007 event was a wake-up call. Scientists and industry leaders from across the United States responded to the crisis by creating a new type of technology to allow shellfish nurseries to adapt to ocean acidification by tracking the degrees of and differences in acidity during tide cycles. The American experts were eager to share their observations and successes and to increase awareness about the challenge of ocean acidification.
Dr. Todd Capson from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and Dr. John Guinotte from the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) were aware of the importance of aquaculture in New Zealand and the similarity of the phenomena manifesting in American and Kiwi waters. They proposed the workshop as a way of seeding new networks and building scientific and industry partnerships to tackle the challenge of ocean acidification.
Our Embassy’s sponsorship of the workshop is part of a larger push by the United States, working with partners like New Zealand, to enlist governments and industry leaders to take significant action to strengthen ocean conservation and science.
The issue is a priority for both President Obama and Secretary Kerry. They recognize the need to take tangible, immediate action to tackle climate change and to protect the seas, and they have launched a comprehensive effort to attempt to build the global consensus needed to address ocean health and sustainability in a serious manner.
For example, for the past year the U.S. and New Zealand have led efforts to establish what would be the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Although we were not able to build the necessary 100% consensus among the members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), we remain optimistic that a way will be found to persuade the small pocket of opposition to protecting this largely pristine Ross Sea wilderness.
Among other efforts we partnered with Ireland and the European Union on Atlantic Ocean research … advocated on behalf of the proposal developed by Australia, the European Union, and France for protection of East Antarctica … and worked to keep ecosystem health at the center of the work of the Arctic Council despite intense exploitation pressures from other quarters. American NGOs such as the Pew Foundation and the National Geographic Society are also working closely with partners around the world to develop and implement oceans strategies.
Solving challenges such pollution, overfishing, and ocean acidification – and ensuring that healthy oceans are a legacy to future generations – will require both global cooperation and individual action. To advance those goals, Secretary Kerry will host an international Ocean’s Conference in Washington next year at which scientific, political, and NGO leaders from around the world will discuss strategy on the full range of ocean health, use, and sustainability issues.
To play our part, we at the Embassy are pleased to have co-sponsored the acidification workshop in Nelson and to have launched the series of climate change projects in Samoa that I’ve discussed in a few prior blog posts. We look forward to continuing to work with our New Zealand (and Samoan) partners on the issues that matter most in our shared Pacific neighborhood.