“We need to do this in the Northeast!”
Dwight Gledhill, Deputy Director of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program, and Ru Morrison, Executive Director of Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS), exclaimed after listening to a presentation on the newly formed California Current Acidification Network. Seeing how the West Coast was creating a collaboration of scientists, industry members, and managers on the West Coast inspired them to start a similar effort on the other side of the country in the Northeast US.
They recruited a small group to join their planning calls and discuss how they could raise the profile of ocean acidification activities in the Northeast, including Beth Turner from NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS). Turner explains, “We saw that there was a lot of ocean acidification work going on in the region, but there was a need for coordination.”
Industry representatives, including shellfish grower Bill Mook, were involved from the beginning. While the shellfish industry in the Northeast had not seen impacts from ocean acidification yet, they wanted to get ahead of the problem and avoid an event like the catastrophic oyster hatchery failures in the Pacific Northwest.
Eventually this group evolved into the steering committee for the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network (NECAN) in 2013. For the past 8 years, the group has brought together individuals from different sectors working on ocean acidification through its four working groups: Science, Education and Outreach, Industry, and Management and Policy. NECAN’s region includes waters from Long Island Sound all the way to Nova Scotia; NECAN is unique in that it collaborates internationally with colleagues in Canada.
One of the first activities NECAN undertook was holding four stakeholder listening sessions across the Northeast coastline to understand what environmental changes people were most concerned about. While ocean acidification was on people’s radar, it wasn’t necessarily their top concern. Communities in Maine were deeply alarmed by ocean warming and how that might affect the vital lobster industry, in addition to being concerned about invasive species. Communities further south were most worried about increasing pollution, nutrient enrichment, and habitat destruction. These meetings included a wide variety of stakeholders, including representatives from aquaculture, the shellfish industry, wild catch fisheries, and non-governmental organizations.
NECAN continues to work with communities across the Northeast region to try to answer the question of how marine resources in the area will fare under increasing ocean acidification. Since these first sessions, new groups have become interested in ocean acidification, including water quality monitoring groups and state legislatures. Many water quality monitoring groups were engaged in “Shell Day” in 2019, a region-wide event that engaged citizen scientists to collect over 500 water samples and measurements of temperature, salinity, and pH. Many states in the area have taken legislative action leading to ocean acidification being incorporated into climate action plans or addressed through stand-alone reports. Emily Silva, the coordinator for NECAN, shared that a current focus for the group is increasing engagement with local tribal communities.
NECAN has also continued to engage and learn from the industry stakeholders in the region. The industry working group recently released a report on an industry survey from 2018 that gauged what impacts the aquaculture industry and wild harvest fishermen are experiencing from ocean acidification and what monitoring or research efforts they would like to see.
Going forward, NECAN will continue to galvanize ocean acidification monitoring and research in the region. Communicating about ocean acidification also remains a top priority; a new working group was recently created to develop an infographic showing the impacts from ocean acidification to key resources in the Gulf of Maine. Additionally, NECAN is planning a second workshop to address the state of ocean acidification science. Their first workshop in 2014 included a number of recommendations for monitoring and research. Silva shares, “These recommendations led to a number of projects being funded and was a great success.”
They are looking forward to gathering members to take actionable steps to address ocean acidification in Northeast communities.
Title image: Demonstration at workshop prior to Shell Day, an initiative created by the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network Credit: Beth Turner Image 1: The Northeast Coastal Acidification Network's Steering Committee Image 2: Shellfishermen at work at Mook Sea Farms in Maine Credit: NOAA Sea Grant Image 3: A demonstration at a workshop preceding NECAN's Shell Day effort Image 4: Sunrise on a coastal town in Maine Credit: Maine Sea Grant