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3.5 Million Awarded to Identify Acidification Thresholds in Coastal Ecosystems NOAA Ocean acidification program

Have you ever gone biking down a hill and tried to stop half way down? It can be difficult, especially compared to stopping on a flat path. What if ocean acidification (OA) is causing a slight decline in the health of marine organisms? How will other coastal stressors such as nutrient pollution, warming waters, and decreased dissolved oxygen affect that dip in the health of marine plants and animals? These stressors can cause a marine ecosystem to reach a tipping point or threshold, beyond which it can be difficult to recover. NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) have jointly funded four projects totaling $3.5 million to identify the threshold at which ecosystems change rapidly and their services are irreversibly altered. From the Chesapeake Bay to the coastal waters of Alaska, this work will help managers reduce stressors to avoid the decline or potential collapse of valuable marine ecosystems.

Read more about the projects below!

How sensitive are systems in the Chesapeake Bay to acidification and nutrient pollution?

Jeremy Testa, University of Maryland

The wild oyster industry has suffered repeated collapses in the Chesapeake Bay due to overharvesting, disease, and declining environmental conditions. How future conditions will affect the Eastern oyster remain uncertain, not only because these conditions such as increased freshwater are difficult to predict , but also because the interactions between stressors such as ocean acidification, temperature, nutrient runoff and sea level rise could lead to unexpected chemical, biological, and economic change. The changes in stressors and their impacts do not always proceed in a straight line.The potential responses of various life stages of the Eastern oyster to stressors like acidification and eutrophication has received little attention. This project will study the impact of different stressors to Chesapeake Bay, a large estuarine system, and the Eastern oyster. The study will bring together different models to understand the relationship between biogeochemical cycling of carbon, oxygen, and nutrients, oyster growth and survival, and oyster economic profitability in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The project will provide insights into future conditions and habitats where aquaculture and wild oyster populations may be most vulnerable to the climate and ocean changes.

Can meadows of underwater eelgrass help mitigate the harmful effects of Ocean Acidification on Eastern oysters?

Emily Rivest, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV), such as eelgrass, could mitigate the harmful impacts of ocean acidification on Eastern oysters by reducing the acidity of waters where oysters grow. These underwater grasses take up carbon dioxide and release oxygen into coastal waters, reducing the exposure of marine organisms to increases in acidity conditions that slow or stop oyster growth and reproduction. Oysters, in turn, improve water clarity forseagrasses to thrive by filtering particles out of the water and allowing more sunlight to penetrate. This modeling project will identify the threshold of acidification beyond which the economically important Eastern oyster is negatively impacted and will evaluate the potential benefit of seagrasses in protecting oysters and the ecosystem services they provide. The modeling tool will also identify the acidification conditions in which seagrass restoration is most helpful and when the economic benefits of this restoration to Easter oyster production outweigh the costs. At the end of this project, the final model will be freely available as an online tool and will help scientists, managers and oyster growers assess the potential for both seagrass and oyster restoration.

Research to inform adaptation decisions for Alaska’s Salmon Fisheries

David Finnoff, University of Wyoming

Alaska is expected to experience ocean acidification faster than any other United States coastal waters, primarily due to its colder water which absorbs more carbon dioxide than warmer waters. With seafood industry job incomes over $1.5 billion annually and a communities that rely on healthy oceans for subsistence, nutrition, and culture, increased ocean acidification is expected to have significant implications. Research on the potential impact to salmon has emerged as one of the top priorities, identified during a 2016 statewide workshop and stakeholder survey. Despite the economic importance of salmon, little research has been done on the effects of ocean acidification on salmon and the fishing industry and communities that depends on salmon. Acidification has been shown to impair coho salmon’s ability to smell and detect their prey. It has also been shown to reduce pink salmon growth rates. In addition, future ocean acidification is expected to affect salmon prey species, which is expected to affect Pacific salmon survival, abundance and productivity. This project will investigate the implication of ocean acidification thresholds and major ecosystem shifts in the Gulf of Alaska on salmon. Integrated human-ecological models will be developed to simulate management scenarios to assess the benefits of pre-emptive adaptation planning and policy making. The information from modeling these scenarios will help create decision tools for salmon managers.

Ocean and Coastal Acidification Thresholds from Long Island Sound to the Nova Scotian Shelf

Ruairidh Morrison, NERACOOS

How will nearshore and coastal ecosystems respond to ocean and coastal acidification in the Northeast? How will these changes affect human communities? An absence of actionable information and understanding of the dynamic nature of coastal acidification is a major challenge to Northeast seafood industry, resource managers, and coastal policymakers. This project will expand the existing Northeast Coastal Ocean Forecast System to develop actionable guidance for coastal water quality and marine resource managers through workshops and direct engagement. Workshops and focus groups will be held to determine information needs, decision scenarios, modeling priorities, and options for delivering actionable information for three specific users: (1) water quality managers and monitoring systems, (2) oyster growers, and (3) the wild harvest shellfishing industry. The research will focus on advancing ocean acidification detection and warning systems that take into account other environmental stressors in Northeast coastal waters.

Credits:

Title photo: Aireal view of estuary Image 1: Aerial view of Chesapeak Bay Credit: NOAA Image 2: Oyster in Chesapeake Bay Credit: NOAA Image 3: Chinook salmon Credit: National Marine Fisheries Service Image 4: Fishing vessels, Northeast US Credit: National Marine Fisheries Service

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