Three Stony Brook faculty members have signed on to a statewide task force to combat ocean acidification, which was announced by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos on Aug. 22.
Malcolm Bowman, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), R. Lawrence Swanson, the associate dean of SoMAS, and Dr. Carl Safina, an endowed research chair for nature and humanity at SoMAS, are all members of the team.
Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has caused a 30 percent increase in acidity since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Bowman compared the effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to the effects of sugar on the human body.
“A little bit is good, but too much and you’ll poison yourself,” he said.
The changing ocean pH levels can spell out disastrous consequences for both the ecosystem and coastal economies. The increased acidity leads to fewer carbonate ions, which are crucial for organisms like shellfish such as oysters and clams, sea urchins, coral and certain types of plankton to build shells and skeletons through calcification. Even the decline of just one species can provoke a ripple effect, affecting its role in the ecosystem and symbiotic relationships with other marine life.
Consequently, fishing industries may suffer.
Bowman, describing the problem at hand, compared acidification to a stomachache.
“If you get indigestion, and you feel really gassy, you can eat antacid tablets. That’s neutralizing acid in your stomach,” he said. “More and more CO₂ is being absorbed by the ocean, and the ocean’s getting more acidic. Here’s the big problem: How do you get it out? How do you give an antacid tablet to the ocean?”
The team, according to the DEC press release, will produce a report and an action plan to mitigate the impact.
“Ocean Acidification (OA), if not fully researched or understood, can have a potentially devastating impact on Long Island’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, particularly shellfishing and its impact to overall health of Long Island’s coastal waters,” wrote DEC Deputy Commissioner for New York City Sustainability, James Gennaro, in an email sent through the DEC office of media relations. “This is why the Governor Cuomo made this issue, including the need to identify practical steps to mitigate OA, a priority in the NYS Ocean Action Plan.”
According to Gennaro, though the task force was first initiated in 2016, there hasn’t been a meeting yet, as various government offices needed to choose appointees to the task force first. A contract with SoMAS was also established during that time to support the team’s work.
“This is new science, and setting the stage for this critically important initiative took time,” Gennaro said. “As chair of this Task Force, I am confident that the OA Task Force will fulfill the Governor’s vision of a comprehensive scientific and policy proposal roadmap to protect Long Island and NYS from the effects of OA.”
Swanson said that ecologically, ocean acidification could have “potentially devastating consequences.”
Though there’s yet to be an official meeting, the “core working group” — including the chair, Swanson and other SoMAS professors and graduate students — has been meeting to set the “organizational stage” for the group, Swanson said.
The team includes experts in a variety of fields, including climatology, hydrology and aquaculture, among other specialties.
Swanson said it was quite diverse, which he thinks is beneficial.
“We can come out with recommendations that represent a broad spectrum of community thought,” he said.