Focused primarily on ocean acidification (OA), the Global Ocean Health Program is a joint initiative of the National Fisheries Conservation Center and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). The program’s mission is to protect seafood supplies, coastal communities, and marine ecosystems from ocean acidification and related impacts by enabling people and businesses that depend on these resources to confront the causes and consequences of this devastating, pollution-induced threat.
In the late 2000s, shellfish growers in the US Pacific Northwest saw their future collapsing as newly-hatched oysters died by the billions in CO2-acidified waters. The Global Ocean Health Program raised more than $100,000 to sustain the crucial monitoring and adaptation efforts that kept fishers in business. Today 3,200 workers still have jobs because shellfish hatcheries have learned to avoid exposing vulnerable young livestock to lethal waters by working closely with scientists to develop extraordinary measures to detect, dodge, and treat seawater. Their data delivered a painful lesson: the waters that nourished abundant oysters, clams, and mussels for many generations on this coast are “corrosive” to these animals in their first days of life.
Turning on the Lights
When emergency federal funds that supported their monitoring and adaptation efforts began running out, Pacific Northwest shellfish producers asked us to help. We were able to plug the funding gap (thanks to support from the Educational Foundation of America) while hatchery managers and scientists teamed up to sleuth out the mechanisms of harm and refine the tools to keep shellfish farmers in business. Not coincidentally, this work made the growers into sure-footed witnesses for ocean health.
When you’re fighting to protect your livelihood, nothing beats knowing what you’re up against. Armed with high-precision monitoring data, shellfish farmers learned that they faced a grave threat from rising CO2 pollution, a problem they could not tackle alone. So they became leaders in the global race to tackle OA while there’s still time. They championed our proposal to create Washington’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. They set out to advance policies to reduce pollution—testifying for stronger policies in state capitals, Washington (DC), and even the United Nations. Now, we work with fishermen, growers, seafood buyers, coastal leaders, and scientists around the world to help them document impacts, adapt, and develop their own approaches to tackling the causes and consequences of OA.
Protecting Seafood Supplies
As pollution erodes the ocean’s capacity to produce fish and shellfish, consumers and suppliers around the world face rising risks. An estimated 3 billion people depend on seafood for nearly one fifth of their animal protein, valued at $217.5 billion, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. From the fishing deck to the dinner table, the seafood industry supports more than one million US jobs, according to NOAA. The Global Ocean Health Program works to protect this bounty and the healthy marine waters that sustain it.
For now, the only proven adaptation method for seafood production is extremely limited: we can protect a few cubic feet of water in hatchery spawning tanks, enabling the vulnerable young shellfish to survive. That’s only a start. Next, we assemble partnerships between producers and scientists to “future-proof” shellfish culture systems and other susceptible species for a changing ocean.
Protecting the Ocean
Because the chemistry of the whole ocean is changing, we also work to widen the sphere of protection, developing tools for local remediation of acidified waters and management of “chemical refuges” in coastal ecosystems where marine vegetation may be able to draw down CO2 concentrations enough to shelter vulnerable calcifiers. We build partnerships to test new approaches for conservation and management of vegetated ecosystems that can purify water and bury carbon. We work with industry and local partners to help them stand up for the science funding that’s needed to get a grip on OA and its impacts. And we provide our partners with actionable intelligence and support to bring the causes of this gathering crisis under control through stronger pollution and energy policies.