By an overwhelming majority, the Maine Legislature passed a bill [LD 1602] to establish a commission to identify what is known – and not known – about ocean acidification in Maine. The eleven-member committee will recommend needed research, outreach, and actions to protect Maine’s valuable shellfish harvesting and aquaculture industries.
The chaos of climate change is impacting the very chemistry of the oceans. The ocean absorbs up to one-third of the atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels. When water and carbon dioxide mix, they form carbonic acid, which makes seawater more acidic. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased by 30 percent. In nearshore waters like Casco Bay, nitrogen pollution is making the situation even worse. Nitrogen runoff fertilizes blooms of phytoplankton, tiny floating plants. As these algae blooms die and decay, carbon dioxide is released, making our water even more acidic.
The Ocean Acidification Bill was introduced by Representative Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, a marine biologist. It took a team effort of fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens to push it through the legislative process. Because this was an abbreviated session, only “emergency measures” were allowed. Initially, the Legislative Council did not think that the changing chemistry of our coastal waters was an emergency, but our supporters answered the call to urge the Council to reinstate the bill, convincing them that it is well past time to confront ocean acidification in Maine.
Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell is an active member of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a group of 28 conservation organizations representing more than 100,000 Mainers. The Coalition advocated strongly for passage of the bill. Cathy explained, “Maine’s coastal economy is tied to a healthy marine ecosystem. For the past three years, Friends of Casco Bay has been measuring acidity levels of clam flats. We have found that many of the clam flats in the Bay are experiencing acidity levels that may be dissolving clam larvae. This is bad news for clams—and for jobs that depend on them.”
Casco BAYKEEPER® Joe Payne testified in favor of the bill before the Marine Resources Committee of the Legislature. “This is one of our leading issues, and it warranted a full-court press,” said Joe. “It is heartening that the state is beginning to take a serious look at how to tackle the acidification problem.”