Op-Ed

We must overcome the threat of growing acidity in our oceans

An experiment in Washington State’s Hood Canal tests whether seaweed can take up carbon dioxide to combat ocean acidification.
An experiment in Washington State’s Hood Canal tests whether seaweed can take up carbon dioxide to combat ocean acidification. AP

Our two districts are among the most recognizable in Florida because they are defined by the waters around them. South Florida’s world-famous beaches, delicious seafood, incomparable fishing, boating, and sailing, spectacular marine life, and cultural connections to the Caribbean, can all be traced back to the sea.

Even the limestone bedrock we live on was created over thousands of years, in part, by the rise and fall of the ocean. South Florida’s economy and our very way of life — from the shores of Biscayne Bay to Key West — all depend on a healthy ocean.

However, our coastal waters are facing tremendous challenges from continuing pollution and water quality issues, and now from ocean acidification, as well.

Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater and the resultant chemical reactions increase the concentration of hydrogen ions in the water, making it more acidic. When the ocean becomes more acidic, animals like stone crabs, lobsters, and corals have trouble building their own natural defenses that they rely on for survival. The impacts on these species and our treasured coral reefs can ripple out to touch all our lives.

Ocean acidification has already wreaked havoc on the $272 million shellfish industry, causing oyster hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest to founder on the verge of collapse. Emerging research shows that ocean acidification can severely affect many marine species ranging from young crabs to clownfish. Other research demonstrates that some shark species — so important to regulating the ecological balance of coastal waters — may have trouble detecting predators or prey in increasingly acidic water. For an ocean-dependent state like Florida, these real-world implications could spell trouble for our community.

A clean, healthy, and productive ocean has always been a foundational pillar of Florida’s economy. Saltwater recreational and commercial fishing combine to support an estimated 175,000 jobs across our state. Data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration also suggests that tourism, recreation, and fishing related to South Florida’s coral reefs alone generates more than $4.4 billion in local sales, and $2 billion in local income.

Florida clearly has a lot to lose from a changing ocean. That is why we find it necessary to continue exploring the potential ramifications of ocean acidification with the help of scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine Science and at Ocean Conservancy. We are also delighted to involve local leaders like State Rep. Holly Raschein, in further examining the emerging threat of ocean acidification to our community and environment.

Spurred by these consequential changes in ocean chemistry, we are also working in Congress to tackle this issue at the national level.

We have cosponsored the bipartisan Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act to conduct ocean acidification vulnerability assessments, and we continue to support increased investment in ocean acidification research and monitoring.

To help our coral reefs, we will soon release new legislation — the Conserving Our Reefs And Livelihoods (CORAL) Act — that specifically prioritizes research into the repercussions of ocean acidification on corals, and incentivizes innovative restoration strategies to develop coral reef communities that are more resilient to changing ocean conditions.

South Floridians’ identities and fortunes have always been closely tied to the ocean. If the next generation of South Floridians is to experience the lifestyle we have come to know and love, we must understand how our oceans are changing, the possible impacts of those changes, and how we can best blunt, or adjust to them.

In confronting the potential challenges of ocean acidification now, before tragedy unfolds, we hope to build a bridge to South Florida’s future as a global leader in mitigation and adaptation solutions to the changing ocean around us.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th District in Congress. Rep. Carlos Curbelo represents Florida’s 26th District. Both are Republicans.

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