The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning that carbon dioxide emissions and ocean acidification are occurring at unprecedented rates and could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars as fisheries from Alaska to Florida are threatened.
In a new report that draws on hundreds of studies detailing how NOAA will monitor the impact of ocean acidification on the U.S. over the next 10 years, the agency warns that it “will likely affect commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing, tourism and coral ecosystems.”
Ocean acidification has a significant impact on sea life crucial to thriving seafood industries, including Dungeness crab, Alaska king crab, New England Atlantic sea scallop and a myriad of other species including mussels, clams and oysters. It makes it difficult for organisms to build shells and skeletons.
The report says profitable commercial fisheries in California, Oregon and Washington are at risk, but U.S. regions particularly endangered are Alaska, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In Alaska, the seafood industry employs more than 50,000 workers earning $2 billion dollars in total annual income. It’s also home to the country’s largest and most valuable crab fishery. Alaska fisheries accounted for more than 60 percent of U.S. harvests by weight in 2016 and $5.2 billion in total output for the U.S. economy.
“Ocean acidification poses unique economic, nutritional, and societal concerns to Alaska communities,” NOAA said. “The harvest of marine resources plays a critical role in the identities and well-being of Alaska communities. More so than any other Americans, Alaskans rely on subsistence harvests of marine resources to meet their daily nutritional needs.”
Meanwhile in the Florida Keys, NOAA says ocean acidification is causing a “great urgency” as the region is home to sensitive coral reef ecosystems that have generated $4.4 billion in annual sales, $2 billion in income and more than 70,000 full and part-time jobs. NOAA said “much of which will be threatened due to ocean acidification’s effects on reef-building corals.”
The report implicates human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, noting that ocean acidification “is driven by the growing amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide absorbed and dissolved in the upper ocean.”