Sound Conversations ocean acidification event draws full house

Sound Conversations: Ocean Acidification

On April 2, the Seattle Aquarium brought the ocean acidification community together to network and learn about innovative approaches to addressing ocean acidification from leaders in the fields of research, policy and public engagement. “Sound Conversations 2015: Addressing Ocean Acidification” featured talks focused on Washington State’s leadership in ocean acidification and the Aquarium’s involvement in the XPRIZE Ocean Health competition.

The event attracted over 250 attendees, who explored interpretive materials related to the issue of ocean acidification—and enjoyed oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms—during a reception preceding the program. KING 5 Chief Meteorologist Jeff Renner served as the evening’s moderator.

In his opening remarks, Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson commented, “It’s a mind-bogglingly serious and daunting time, but also an exciting time,” before introducing the first of the evening’s speakers: Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Marine Resources Advisory Committee (and recipient of the 2015 Seattle Aquarium Medal).

Kongsgaard sounded a note of urgency, saying, “We believed the ocean was a system too big to fail. We need to act now,” and, “Climate change isn’t philosophical and it shouldn’t be political—it’s math.”

Next to speak was Wendy Schmidt, philanthropist and title donor of the Ocean Health XPRIZE. In describing the critical importance of the ocean, she presented eye-opening facts including:

  • The ocean represents 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and 99 percent of its living space.
  • Half of all the breaths we take are from the ocean.
  • Two billion people get their primary protein from the ocean.
  • Three billion people’s primary occupation is related to the ocean.
  • The ocean’s average pH has risen 30 percent since pre-Industrial times—at a faster rate than any time in the past 55 million years.
  • Only five percent of the ocean is mapped.

Schmidt then sounded a call to action, saying, “Our impact on the planet has become impossible to ignore.” She described the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, in which more than 200 million gallons of crude oil were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. Schmidt sponsored a competition to develop a means to capture oil from the water more efficiently and, she said, “In 14 months, we’d seen more advances than in the past 20 years.”

Her involvement in that competition was the beginning of what has led to the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE: a $2 million global competition to develop the world’s most accurate and affordable pH sensors. The contest began in the fall of 2013 and, in February of this year, the top submissions were tested in the waters below the Aquarium’s pier. Winners will be announced in July.

Drs. Jan Newton and Terrie Klinger, co-directors of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, spoke next, describing their work to “assess and understand what’s driving ocean acidification in Washington waters, to provide forecasts and assess how species respond.” Dr. Klinger, recipient of the 2015 Seattle Aquarium Research Award, described effects of ocean acidification that are already being observed in local species such as Dungeness crab. “Washington is a leader in the effort to understand this issue and take action,” she commented in closing.

Dr. Chris Sabine, director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, was next to speak, noting that ocean acidification is impacting marine fish—not just shellfish. He cited pteropods, planktonic snails that have adapted to swim in the open ocean, and which are a significant part of the diets of juvenile salmon, as prime examples.

Dr. Nina Bednaršek, research scientist at the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, continued the discussion on pteropods, noting that their shells, which are quite thin naturally, are starting to dissolve with the effects of ocean acidification. “Currently,” she said, “One out of two shells we observe are severely affected by dissolution. That number will increase to 70 percent by 2050.” Pteropods affected in this way lose their swimming ability and are prone to infection and predation. “They are the canary in the coalmine for ocean acidification,” she stated.

Dr. Bednaršek ended the evening with words of hope, saying, “I’m a firm believer that science can make a change.” Visit the Seattle Aquarium and our website for more information about ocean acidification, and stay tuned for future blog posts about this critical issue.

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Creature Feature: Clown Triggerfish

Clown triggerfish

Size: Up to 20 inches long.

Range: Found in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, most commonly along external reef slopes.

Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms (which include animals like sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sand dollars).

Fast facts: Triggerfish get their names from the fact that their first three dorsal spines are adapted in such a way that the first one, which is very strong, can be braced into an upright position by the second, allowing the animals to lock themselves into holes. When they want to come back out, the second spine acts as the “trigger” to unlock the first.

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Aquarium volunteers plant trees to sequester carbon

A group of 24 Aquarium Youth Ocean Advocates, adult volunteers and staff recently spent time working with King County Parks to plant 725 trees at Soaring Eagle Regional Park in Sammamish. The Aquarium partners with Forterra to purchase trees and coordinate the effort to plant them in Seattle-area parks and forests to help sequester the carbon output from the Aquarium. This was our third year in a row of partnering with Forterra on this project and it also attracted the largest-ever group of Aquarium volunteers to help plant the trees!

Thank you to Aquarium Conservation Manager Mark Plunkett for continuing to lead this great effort and to Youth Engagement Mentor Karlie Roland for coordinating our Puget Sound: We Love You campaign youth for a great day in the sunshine, getting dirty and supporting our mission: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment! Click here to read a previous blog post about our partnership with Forterra.

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Local Brownie troop supports the Seattle Aquarium with cookie sales

A local troop of Brownies, second and third graders from Redmond, are supporting the Seattle Aquarium with a portion of their Girl Scout cookies this year! The troop voted in January and chose ocean conservation as a cause they wanted to serve—and the Aquarium as the recipient of their donations. They even made a video about why it’s important to care for our marine environment.

The girls are using the video to promote their cookie sales through March 15. Troop leader Barbara Feldon tells us that a lot of the inspiration for the video came from the “10 ways to save Puget Sound” pdf on our website. To find it, click here, then look for the link in the first paragraph.

Here’s to the next generation of stewards for our marine environment, and a delicious season of cookie sales for a very special Brownie troop!

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Seattle Aquarium heads to the Big Island!
Part 2 of 2

Hawaii 2015 research tripThe Seattle Aquarium recently completed its seventh year of a research project off the northwest coast Hawaii’s Big Island: monitoring reef fish abundance. Data is gathered using a method similar to the one used in our temperate fish surveys: non-invasive monitoring through diver-performed video sampling. This work is being done in cooperation with Washington State University; California State University, Humboldt; and the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.

Says Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson, “We are searching for shifting baselines, which are an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities.” Data collected has shown a steady increase in fishes in our study sites and has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below, Dr. Larson shares her journal entries from the final two days of the research trip.

Day 4: Friday, February 6

Four days into the trip and we have only surveyed three out of our eight sites—and the surf continued to be too rough to access them from shore. Our plan was to pick up the rest of the Puako sites (2 and 5) from the Kohala divers’ boat. In the morning we drove up to Mahukona to see if we there was any way we could get divers in and out of the water without the ladder. When we got there we realized that wasn’t going to happen today as the whole access area had been closed due to high surf. Disappointed once again, we drove back to Puako and prepared to dive off the boat. Once on the boat it was a bumpy ride to site 5 through the biggest swells we had seen near Puako, but we were on a boat so we had no worries. We sent the first team of divers in and watched the swells mounting. We had surface communications with the divers so we could hear what they were doing and talk to them. We completed our surveys at site 5 with lots of surge and low visibility because of the swells. Even from a boat this site was challenging under these conditions. We then travelled to site 2 and found that the waves were so big snorkelers couldn’t set our surface marker, thus the divers would have a hard time finding the survey site. The water conditions were just too rough and after surveying only one site we were done for the day.


Day 5: Saturday, February 7

Today we headed back to Kona to meet up with Captain Pete again and try to survey site 8 off his boat. The swells were supposed to have died down to just 1–2 feet. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and the swells were about 6-8 feet. We motored for about half an hour, halfway to our site, and decided to turn around as we knew the swell was too big to safely dive that shallow site. By early afternoon we were back up in Puako and looked at site 2 again. The swells were big but smaller than they had been most of the week. We decided to go for it and sent one dive team out. Making it through the surf wasn’t fun with all the gear. The conditions underwater weren’t the best with heavy surge and low visibility. Once the first team finished two transects, they surfaced and waited to hand off the gear to the next dive team. However the next team wasn’t in SCUBA gear, just in snorkel gear. When the first dive team was underwater the swells had picked up too much. The snorkel team was needed just to help the divers with their gear get into shore safely. Everyone made it in without getting significantly hurt although everyone had bumps and bruises.

Alas it was our last dive day and although we weren’t able to survey all our sites, we did get the same amount of data as we did our first year—and had to call it quits. We will just have to pick up sites 6–8 next year!

For details about the Seattle Aquarium’s other research projects, visit our website.

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