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Science, Law & the Environment Emerging Topics in Environmental Law

Link Roundup: Ocean Acidification Update, Robotic Buoys to Help the Shellfish Industry, Plastic Cleanup in the North Pacific

Posted in Emerging Policy, Geeky Science Stuff, Ocean Acidification, Shellfish Industry, Water Quality

My Wednesday afternoon update has a strong focus on oceans:

First, Craig Welch at the Seattle Times had a great piece out last week that summarizes the evolving understanding of ocean acidification and the impacts to the shellfish industry, along with one Willapa Bay oyster grower’s efforts to mitigate those impacts. For those of you interested in the complex interaction of CO2 emissions on ocean chemistry and the economic impacts of those changes, this is a great background piece. In a nutshell, it discusses the rapid rise of ocean acidification as a problem for the west coast shellfish industry, where increased mortality of oyster larvae is attributed to lower pH ocean waters– thought to be partially a result of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The response by Goose Point Oyster Company–who opened a hatchery in Hawaii that uses a deep salt-water aquifer as a source–demonstrates the degree of economic impacts and measures businesses are taking to adapt to ocean acidification. I’ve watched this issue for a while now, and while the ocean acidification issue is certainly alarming, I’m also amazed at how quickly the shellfish industry is reacting and adapting. It seems the skills needed to adapt were honed by years of working within the dynamic near-shore environment on a day-to-day basis.

Second–and also related to the shellfish industry–a team of researchers deployed a package of sensors in a buoy in Puget Sound this past summer.  It is described as a “lab in a can,” able to detect the DNA associated with harmful algae blooms before those blooms grow to the point of impacting shellfish harvests. The “Environmental Sample Processor” is undergoing deployments this summer in Lummi and Samish Bays. Real-time and historic data are available at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. No target organisms have been detected in Samish Bay, but the ESP did detect Heterosigma akashiwo in Lummi Bay earlier this summer–a harmful alga that can cause mortality in fish raised in net pens. This is a collaborative effort involving researchers at universities, NOAA, and private industry, and is a good example of how such a partnership can eventually yield real economic benefit in the form of reduced losses to the aquaculture industry associated with harmful algae blooms.

Finally, filed under geeky science stuff, is a pretty cool invention by Boyan Slat designed to address the issue of floating plastic in the North Pacific (the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “Pacific Garbage Vortex”). He’s 19 years old, and wiring up a way to potentially skim up garbage in the North Pacific–with the potential to make things profitable as a result of money generated by recycling the plastic. I’m a big fan of TED talks, and if you have 11 free minutes, his talk is worth watching.