SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Humans are changing the chemical makeup of the world's oceans and causing dangerous acidity levels that threaten California's coastal ecosystems, scientists warned a state Senate committee Tuesday.
A panel of scientists studying ocean acidification and hypoxia - dubbed "the evil twin of global warming" - told California state senators that increased acidity levels in the Pacific Ocean are a "generational" threat and already damaging California's 840 miles of coastline.
During the first-ever California legislative hearing on ocean acidification, scientists urged the state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee to increase their role in raising public and political awareness of the global phenomenon they claim is intertwined with climate change.
"This is a huge problem that is going to be very difficult to stop and slow down, and this problem is going to affect our children and grandchildren," Dr. Alexandria Boehm, Stanford scientist and chair of the West Coast Ocean Acidification Hypoxia Science Panel, said. "It's the problem that's going to define a generation."
Scientists estimate approximately 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human activities eventually dissolves in the oceans. The rise in global carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution are speeding up the oceans' rate of absorption and in turn creating more acidic water.
The apparent and immediate danger of unhealthy ocean pH levels, the panel said Tuesday, is damage to shellfish species like oysters. Boehm said recent ocean acidification has caused over $100 million in damages to the Pacific Northwest's oyster industry and spurred Washington state to create a blue-ribbon panel to assess declining oyster populations.
Scientists and lawmakers combined to buoy Washington state's shellfish industry, worth an estimated $270 million, and implemented strategies to offset acidity levels by adding "antacids" to oyster larvae farm beds.
The collaboration between scientists and lawmakers is exactly what is needed in California, according to California Ocean Protection Council executive director Catherine Kuhlman.
"It's a pretty wonderful success story that involved the community, it involved the industry and it involved government and scientists," Kuhlman testified.
Throughout the one-hour committee hearing, experts reiterated that ocean acidification is largely manmade and tied to greenhouse gas emissions. California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird told lawmakers that rising ocean temperatures and acidity levels are an immediate threat to the Golden State's wildlife and economy.
"Unchecked, they will potentially destroy our ocean ecosystems and unravel the ocean food chain and only the public can address these by reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Laird testified.
Pharmacist and current state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, stated that acidity levels are constantly changing worldwide due to natural causes and called the label "ocean acidification" a misnomer. He said Richard Feeley, one of the 20 members on the panel, has been accused of conducting a fraudulent study.
Stone also said he's concerned not enough research has actually been done to conclude that "alleged climate change" is contributing to the acidity of the ocean.
The scientists responded by acknowledging that 75 percent of the studies on ocean acidification does come from the last 10 years but that Feeley - a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner and current scientist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration - is a well-respected voice on ocean acidification.
Boehm said the panel's executive summary is due out this spring and contains recommendations for the California Legislature to create framework for regulatory policies on ocean acidification.
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