Ocean Acidification Will Cause Big Economic Losses in the U.S.

Alaska’s Valuable Crab Fishery Likely To Be Greatly Impacted by Ocean Acidification

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released last week as part of a Congressionally-mandated review of ocean acidification, states that increasing acidity in the U.S. ocean waters could cause “billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy,” with detrimental impacts on Alaskan fisheries and tourism due to degraded coral reefs in Florida and the Caribbean. The agency’s draft research plan to study ocean acidity notes that carbon dioxide emissions and ocean acidification are occurring at an “unprecedented” rate, according to Scientific American.

Why This Matters:  As we recently wrote, ocean waters off California are hard hit by acidification, but now we see that the Golden State is not alone.  Climate impacts are costing our economy already due to severe weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes.  Even though increasing ocean acidification may not be visible to the eye, its costs are just as devastating.  Florida’s coral reefs are an $8.5 B dollar asset to the economy there, but not if they are bleached and degraded.  And who’s to blame for a majority of that acidification — the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that a new study points the finger at the world’s largest fossil fuel companies.  Fishermen are suing the oil companies for this very reason — and hopefully, this new information will help buttress that case.

Two Most Vulnerable Regions

The research proposal points out that two regions are expected to be hit the hardest — Florida/Puerto Rico and Alaska.  In Alaska, the seafood industry employs more than 50,000 people who earn a total of $2 billion a year in wages.  Similarly, coral reefs in southeast Florida generate $4.4 billion in annual sales which provide $2 billion in income and support 70,400 jobs.  Reefs also provide important storm protection benefits — according to a recent government report, they are worth $319 million a year in Florida, $118 million a year in Puerto Rico and $25 million a year in the Virgin Islands.

Who’s To Blame?

peer-reviewed study published in December in the Environmental Research Letters found that emissions traced to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies are responsible for more than half of the ocean’s acidification since pre-industrial times, according to scientists at the Union of Concerned Scientists.  The study calculated the amount of ocean acidification that occurred as a result of carbon released during fossil fuel extraction, production, and usage by looking at the 88 largest gas, oil and coal producers and cement manufacturers.  The study also found that “more than one-fifth (~23 percent) of that increased acidity from 1880 could be traced to the emissions from the 20 largest investor-owned and majority state-owned companies since 1965, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.”

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