Special Commission on Ocean Acidification Meets on Cape Cod

Tim Dunn/CapeCod.com

BARNSTABLE – A special state commission has conducted its first of several meetings on research into ocean acidification in Massachusetts waters.

The Earth’s oceans absorb between 20 and 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that humans generate, and since carbon dioxide is soluble in water, it chemically reacts with the sea water and lowers its pH, creating a more acidic ocean.

This chemical process also reduces the amount of carbonate available for coral to build and for shellfish to form their shells, which leads to greatly diminished populations with ecosystem-wide impacts.

“This is a critical issue. Ocean acidification is one of the nastiest side-effects of the release of carbon emissions into our atmosphere,” said Barnstable/Dukes/Nantucket State Representative Dylan Fernandes, one of the commission’s creators via legislation passed with Cape & Islands State Senator Julian Cyr.

For the state’s shellfishing industry, ocean acidification can have a severe economic impact as well as ecological.

Fernandes said the special commission aims to identify exactly what leads to ocean acidification, from human activity to storm water and wastewater run-off, as well as how to minimize it and help the ecosystem and shell fishing industry recover.

“We have an expert panel, expert commission members who come from scientific backgrounds, from the shell fishing industry, and the lobster industry. It’s just a whole host of stakeholders who are coming together to address this along with policymakers from across the commonwealth,” said Fernandes.

Fernandes said that he and the commission is working closely with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratories, and the Woods Hole Research Center to study the issue.

Fernandes drew comparisons between the Massachusetts commission and commissions working in other states on the same issue, including those working on the similar ocean acidification problem in Washington. 

Upwelling from the state’s deep coastal waters lead to heavy drops in pH, severely damaging Washington’s shell fishing flats with the removal of carbonate. 

Fernandes said he hopes to apply the commission in a way that is best suited for the local environment.

“What I’m really interested in is how Massachusetts flats are unique in terms of addressing ocean acidification and what regional specific policies can we put in place to help protect our coasts and our shell fishing industry.”

The commission will meet at least three more times to research and review data on the issue, alongside holding several public hearings. 

The commission aims to have recommendations for legislature on policy by the end of next year. 

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the CapeCod.com News Center in 2019.

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