Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Acidification: Alaskans Unaware of Risk to Fisheries

An Alaska focused study published in the journal Marine Policy has found Alaskans are three times more aware of ocean acidification than other Americans, but concludes that they did not understand the direct risks to their state’s fisheries.

The research paper, entitled “Gauging perceptions of ocean acidification in Alaska," was written by Lauren Frisch of the University of Alaska and Jeremy Mathis, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

The complete article is online a http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X14003236. Researchers said they found that in Alaska the impacts of ocean acidification have the potential to be even worse than other coastal communities because of an accelerated rate of change in ocean chemistry, and statewide reliance on commercial and subsistence fishing.

Accurately evaluating ocean acidification risk directly influences the ability to respond to change. The research builds on earlier NOAA-led research that showed communities in Southeast and Southwest Alaska are more at risk than other areas of the state because of their heavy reliance on fisheries expected to be impacted by ocean acidification.

“We wanted to learn the best way to provide Alaskans with the information they need to properly respond to ocean acidification, said Frisch, a research associate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center. “The first step was to determine where there are gaps in the understanding of ocean acidification so that we can then work to fill them in.”

Back in 2013, some 2,000 Alaskans received a questionnaire asking about their role in the state’s fishing industry, as well as their belief in, understanding of, and concern about ocean acidification. Some 18 percent of those who received that questionnaire responded, which is high for studies of this nature.

Results showed limited understanding of how Alaska will be uniquely impacted by ocean acidification. Those affiliated with the state’s fishing industry were not significantly more concerned about ocean acidification than the others, and only 33 percent believed that ocean acidification will decrease revenue for fisheries.

They perceived ocean acidification as a distant risk.

With all the other challenges we’re faced with, it can be difficult to think about ocean acidification as an immediate risk, Mathis said. “We really have to work harder to get the message out to stakeholders around Alaska that ocean acidification is something that they need to consider sooner rather than later.”

“Moving forward, we need to figure out how to enhance this understanding that acidification is not uniform, and therefore adaptation plans will be more successful if they are local,” Frisch said. “Educating communities with local examples about their specific risk could help foster this understanding. The best thing we can do is provide vulnerable communities the tool set to evaluate risk themselves.”

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