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Lawsuit Launched Targeting Large-scale Oyster Deaths in Oregon, Washington Driven by Ocean Acidification
SEATTLE - July 23 - The Center for Biological Diversity today announced its intention to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to address ocean acidification that is killing oysters in Oregon and Washington. Shellfish are not the only animals in trouble; ocean acidification is a broad threat to marine ecosystems and species, with research increasingly showing it stands to harm nearly every type of marine animal. The letter asked the EPA to reconsider its decision that seawaters affected by ocean acidification are nonetheless meeting water-quality standards meant to protect marine life and shellfish rearing.
“Shellfish are dying at a staggering rate because of ocean acidification, and the EPA needs to jump in right away to stop it,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans director. “If you had a fish tank where the most sensitive animals suddenly began dying off from acidic water, wouldn’t you act fast? It would be irresponsible to wait for more science or more dead bodies to start to address the problem.”
Since about 2005, shellfish hatcheries in Washington and Oregon have experienced massive die-offs of oyster larvae with losses of up to 80 percent of production. The cause of the problem is ocean acidification; every year acidified seawater comes nearer to shore and exposes marine life to corrosive waters. Marine waters are growing increasingly acidic because the ocean absorbs CO2 pollution from power plants and cars; this process also strips seawater of the chemicals marine animals need to build their protective shells and skeletons. The Pacific Northwest is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification; harmful impacts are already being observed in Oregon and Washington.
“The shellfish die-offs signal a major problem, and I’m worried that the impacts of ocean acidification will cascade throughout the marine ecosystem,” said Sakashita. “Everyone loves going to the beach. We will lose so much if the tidepools our children like to peer into are covered in algae and the waters are empty of seastars, mussels and fish.”
Ocean acidification is an overarching threat to our ocean environment. Oysters are failing to reproduce in Willapa Bay, Wash., corals are growing more sluggishly, and some plankton have thin, weak shells. As carbon dioxide emissions increase, acidification will fundamentally change ocean ecosystems. Ocean acidification also magnifies the toxins in harmful algal blooms, also known as red tides. Research suggests that toxins increase five-fold in harmful algae that can poison shellfish, marine mammals, fish, and even cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in people.
“Washington is already providing great leadership on ocean acidification, yet the problem remains unsolved and is growing more severe. The Pacific Northwest has a great stake in addressing this crisis, and we hope the EPA will use the tools of the Clean Water Act to protect our oceans,” said Sakashita.
The Clean Water Act has an important role to play in addressing ocean acidification. The law requires that waters not meeting water-quality standards, including those for acidity, are identified as impaired. In turn, impaired waters can lead to pollution control, which here can result in needed measures to reduce carbon emissions and other pollution that drives acidification. Similarly, the EPA uses the Clean Water Act for water-quality problems caused by atmospheric mercury and acid rain. Using the Clean Water Act to address ocean acidification complements efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act and state initiatives.