The State Of Our Ocean

2019-02-15T11:48:54+00:00 February 11, 2019|
(Credit: Crew and Officers of NOAA Ship FAIRWEATHER)

(Credit: Crew and Officers of NOAA Ship FAIRWEATHER)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing titled: “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Economies: The State of Our Oceans in the 21st Century.”

Why It Matters

The ocean faces a myriad of threats, including ocean acidification, pollution, harmful algal blooms, and coral reef die-offs, all of which are exacerbated by climate change. With more than 40 percent of Americans living along the coast, coastal communities are the first to experience hardships that result from a changing ocean. These environmental changes affect the stability of our coastal communities, and in turn, the economic prosperity and food security.

Key Points

Climate change is a global issue with local impacts. Witnesses described the direct effects climate change has on their families and communities, from sea-level rise and frequent and increasing storms to shifting fish populations. Ms. Beth Casoni (Executive Director, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association) spoke about the warming waters in the Gulf of Maine causing lobster populations to move north and into deeper waters, making them more difficult and expensive to catch. These shifting populations endanger the stability of the commercial lobster industry and in turn, the livelihoods of thousands of lobstermen and women. Other witnesses were questioned on the economic impacts of climate change mitigation strategies and stated that mitigation efforts must balance costs and benefits.

Dr. Deborah Bronk (President and CEO, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences) explained the science behind climate change and the anthropogenic activities driving ocean warming and acidification. She stated that the ocean is working at capacity to absorb excess heat from fossil fuel pollution, resulting not only in melting sea ice and sea level rise but in changes in ocean chemistry through increasing the acidity of water (ocean acidification).

In addition to the well-known social and scientific effects of climate change, witnesses discussed how climate change negatively impacts their culture, history, and heritage. Ms. Angela Chalk (Executive Director, Healthy Community Services) showed a picture of a submerged ancestral burial space at St. James Cemetery in Louisiana and described how it is impossible to quantify the loss of these communities’ cultural heritage and history. Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine (Chieftess and Head-of-State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation) explained the culture significance of the water and shoreline to the Gullah/Geechee nation and their traditions, from providing food to baptisms to burial grounds, and how climate change is threatening their land, water, and way of life.

Despite the numerous negative impacts of climate change, there was still hope and belief among witnesses that humans will rise to the challenge of solving this global problem through ingenuity and creativity, as long as action is taken now. Queen Quet and Ms. Chalk provided examples of local efforts to mitigate land loss by recycling oyster shells to restore oyster reefs. They spoke about the importance of citizen science and educating the next generation to recognize the value of the ocean and coasts.

Quotable

“Ocean health is critical for people and the planet, and it’s time to prepare and adapt our coasts for the future that has already arrived.” — Chairman Jared Huffman (CA-2)

“When we talk about healthy oceans and healthy economies, I wanted to make sure that you also realize that we have to talk about healthy communities. […] We’re not just talking about the fish, we’re not just talking about the shrimp, we’re talking about the cultural communities that live from these fisheries and have lived in harmony and balance with them for all these generations.” — Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine (Chieftess and Head-of-State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation)

“I believe that in science, there is always hope. Climate change is a problem that, ironically, science through our own success has created. I believe it is through science that we will solve it.”  — Dr. Deborah Bronk (President and CEO, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences)

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership     

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