The Science-Policy Intersect: Ocean Acidification and Marine Debris

Climate change-driven shifts in ocean conditions and growing coastal populations are two of the many factors raising uncertainty in coastal and marine resource management.  Fortunately, there is a growing understanding of the opportunity to improve policies and decisions on these issues by drawing on and infusing scientific data into policy and management decisions in order to promote healthy coastal economies and ecosystems. My graduate degree research focused on this intersection between science and policy and how to imbue scientific data into the policy process. In my past few months with the Governor’s Natural Resources Office I have seen two regionally focused efforts in the eastern Pacific Ocean that speak directly to this interface.

The first of these is the establishment of a West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel (OAH Panel). The OAH Panel, consisting of 20 esteemed scientists representing California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, was tasked with advancing decision makers’ understanding of drivers and impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia. Ocean acidification poses a particular threat to the west coastal waters of the United States and Canada, where naturally upwelling waters bring deep water with a low pH to the surface, where it mixes with low pH waters caused by atmospheric deposition of carbon dioxide.  Successive upwelling events also increase the occurrence of seasonally hypoxic (low oxygen) areas of the ocean. Acknowledging the specific threat that ocean acidification and hypoxia bring to the west coast, the OAH Panel is intended to identify the research and monitoring needed to answer practical questions faced by policy makers and managers about ocean acidification and hypoxia. While biological impacts have been seen from ocean acidification and hypoxia, there are still many questions to answer for the purpose of decision making. On my very first day on the job, I was fortunate to attend a meeting between Oregon natural resource agency managers and Oregon-based OAH Panel scientists convened to set an agenda for ways to advance science-informed decision making in Oregon waters. They agreed to work collaboratively to develop accurate and accessible outreach materials to inform policy makers and the public, establish ongoing information sharing and coordination forums on OAH, and identify ways to ensure the science products being developed by the OAH Panel are used by decision makers.

The second effort endeavoring to infuse scientific data into policy and management practices in the eastern Pacific Ocean is the West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP).  The WCODP is a project of the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health that provides access to ocean and coastal data to inform regional resource management, policy development, and ocean planning. I was able to help at the WCODP’s annual Network meeting in early November to unveil a new feature of the Portal that creates a geographic visual of data, specifically data relating to marine debris. This new feature, the Data Viewer, provides coastal decision makers with a tool to track marine debris and help prioritize clean ups and advocate for policies to reduce the impact of trash on our beaches. As the WCODP charts its strategic plan moving forward, it seeks to continue to be a rich data resource and tool to visualize and map that information, so that ocean and coastal managers can make sound decisions to improve ocean health.

Both of these efforts have established a significant opportunity to sustain and continue to build cross-sector cooperation between decision making and scientific sectors on the west coast. The state is thus poised to more efficiently and effectively protect and preserve the ocean’s critical natural resources. Both the scientific community and decision making community are working to improve ocean health.  Combining forces is helping scientists ask the questions managers need to answer to understand how ecosystem services that people value will be affected, and what steps people might take to try to mitigate and adapt to those changes on the west coast now and in the future.

IMG_0976

Coming Full-Circle with the West Coast Ocean Observing Systems

CDIP_driving

One of the perks of working in the offices of SCCOOS and CDIP was getting out on the water to help with CDIP wave buoy deployments.

When I was accepted to the California Sea Grant State Fellowship program last November, I couldn’t keep the names of my mentor organizations straight. I knew that I’d be working with four agencies (possibly more!) along the West Coast to analyze oceanographic data in the context of marine debris and ocean acidification. The job sounded fabulous, but I didn’t really have any idea whom I’d be working for.

Twelve months later, I can rattle off the names of my host agencies in one confident breath (try saying ‘Ocean Observing System’ three times fast, with several geographic and governmental qualifiers thrown in, and you get the idea). Because my position is based at the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (that’s SCCOOS) in beautiful La Jolla, CA, I have been able to observe many of the day-to-day workings of the oceanographic data collection that SCCOOS employs. SCCOOS is well-known for the array of real-time ocean observing platforms that it has created and maintains. My lunch break ocean views are framed by a Coastal Observing Research and Development Center (CORDC) high-frequency radar (HFR) station that measures real-time surface currents, and the door of my office is marked by a yellow Waverider buoy used by the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) to monitor wave conditions. Both the HFR surface currents and the CDIP wave and sea surface temperature datasets have formed core components of my product development. Best of all, when I have a question, I can simply walk next door to check in with the people who collect the data.

CORDC HF Radar stations (left) and CDIP wave buoys (right) are both based at SCCOOS, allowing me to fully understand the whole process of data collection and manipulation.

CORDC HF Radar stations (left) and CDIP wave buoys (right) are both based at SCCOOS, allowing me to learn about the whole process of data collection and quality control, in addition to using the data to create time-averaged oceanographic products.

A large part of my fellowship involves working with data and agencies outside of Southern California. While the West Coast OOS Regional Associations (RAs) are all housed under the national Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) network, and share data across geographic boundaries, each RA has its own focus within coastal oceanography and ocean health monitoring. My fellowship has helped me explore these nuances, giving me a better understanding of the variety of coastal environments and marine-related issues around the U.S.

One of the Fellowship side projects that I developed this summer was plotting sea surface temperature (SST) and significant wave height (Hs) along the West Coast.

One of my Fellowship side projects has been to plot sea surface temperature (SST, above) and significant wave height (Hs) along the West Coast.

This spring, I had the opportunity to visit another of my host OOSs, the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS), along with several of their partner organizations. CeNCOOS is based at the edge of the world-renowned Monterey Bay and Monterey Submarine Canyon, giving it the ideal position to work with a host of academic collaborators, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), UC Santa Cruz, the CSU Moss Landing Marine Lab, Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Naval Research Laboratory. During my visit, I attended a Marine Debris Symposium hosted by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), and presented a poster on my Fellowship work connecting Ocean Observing System data to marine debris. The Symposium gave me the opportunity to learn about marine debris cleanup and reduction efforts around California, and connected me with people interested in using the data products I have created. Seeing potential applications for these products motivated me to solve several tricky coding problems to improve my products.

#9 - NANOOS extra small

(Top) In August, I visited several shellfish farms in Oregon and Washington. Jen McWhorter (far left), the SCCOOS Public Relations and Government Outreach Coordinator, and Jen Rhoades (middle left), the IOOS Pacific Region Coordnator, joined me on the tours. Dave Steele (middle right), the owner of Rock Point Oyster Farms, generously organized our tours. (Bottom) I also visited Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, one of the first hatcheries to realize that low-pH waters have been causing problems in shellfish development in recent years (photos courtesy of Jen McWhorter).

In August, I had a wonderful trip to Oregon and Washington to visit my third OOS host, the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), and its stakeholders. In recent years, NANOOS has collaborated closely with shellfish farmers in the Pacific Northwest to help monitor, understand and highlight the detrimental effects of increasing ocean acidification on shellfish growth and survival. During my visit, I toured several shellfish farms to hear how they benefit from collaborations with NANOOS. One aspect of my fellowship has involved updating the West Coast Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory (a list of West Coast OA monitoring equipment and stations), which is being incorporated into the new IOOS Pacific Region OA Portal. Learning firsthand about the impacts of OA on larval growth and shell formation added value and context to the extensive lists of monitoring assets and data that I had been working with.

I also attended several WCGA meetings throughout the year, to help me understand West Coast ocean policy and how my fellowship could contribute meaningful data to West Coast ocean partnerships. I have had the chance to help plan this year’s West Coast Ocean Data Network Meeting, which focused on unveiling the West Coast Ocean Data Portal and associated datasets and connections developed this year, including the WCGA-OOS partnerships that I have helped work on during my Fellowship.

My California Sea Grant Fellowship has been an incredible growth experience. Wrangling Pythons (coding scripts) and refining my knowledge of West Coast oceanography and ocean organization acronyms has helped me realize that integrated, policy-applicable oceanographic work is what I want to do in the future. I will miss working at the incredible Scripps Institution of Oceanography, but will be taking time to travel and pursue my land- and ocean-based interests, including horse polo, bird-watching, tall-boat sailing and SCUBA diving. I will be checking the CDIP wave forecasts religiously as I attempt to learn to surf, and will remain vigilant in my quest to pick up every scrap of beach trash and to educate fellow grocery-shoppers about the environmental benefits of reusable bags. I hope to dive back into the world of oceanography soon, via a Ph.D. program or related work. Maybe someday, I’ll find my way back to the Ocean Observing Systems.

IMG_7102

 

 

And so it begins…

As a new Oregon Sea Grant Fellow, I thought an introduction to myself should start this blog. I am a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Management program in the Department of Environmental Management at Portland State University in Portland, OR. My graduate research focused on evidence-based decision making in coastal and marine management and policy in the Pacific Northwest. At a high level, this work tested a 2 phase methodology for bridging the gap between academic research and policy and management practice: The 1st phase included an interviewing process to gather primary qualitative data and determine scientific data needs of ocean relevant decision makers. In the 2nd phase, I conducted a workshop to bring together academic scientists and decision makers to disseminate phase 1 findings and begin to foster the development, communication, and use of policy relevant research. I have resolved to continue focusing on understanding how best to bring scientific knowledge into policy action through my career in coastal and marine policy creation and management implementation.
My graduate research was funded by the Oregon Sea Grant Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship, and I feel very fortunate to continue to work with Oregon Sea Grant as well as other Sea Grant scholars over the next year. I anticipate gaining an incredible wealth of knowledge over the next year working in the Oregon Governor’s Natural Recourses Office. As a neophyte walking around this Office, I often find myself with eyes open wide and full of excitement. Oregon Sea Grant has provided me this incredibly rare opportunity to be placed in the heart of ocean and coastal policy in such a critical coastal state, and I intend to take advantage of every moment.
In this role, I will support Oregon’s engagement in carrying out WCGA priorities related to climate change, regional ocean data, marine debris, and ocean acidification, as well as WCGA initiatives to foster collaboration with tribes, local governments, and the federal government coordinating and improving ocean management and health in Oregon and along the West Coast. I welcome you to follow me along this journey over the next year!

Chasing Waves and Navigating West Coast Ocean Policy

    Greetings from a new face on the team! My name is Laura Lilly and I am thrilled to have been selected as one of the 2013-2014 California Sea Grant Fellows! I recently began a one-year fellowship through the California Sea Grant Program, in which I will be working with the west coast regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) and the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health (WCGA). Throughout my fellowship, I will be blogging about these experiences and our combined progress, as an opportunity to reflect on the work I am doing and the ways in which it may help our marine ecosystems.

Setting my course - I’m ready to dive into my Sea Grant Fellowship work and navigate the seas of west coast marine policy and ocean data integration!

Setting course – I’m ready to dive into my Sea Grant Fellowship work and navigate the seas of west coast marine policy and ocean data integration!

My fellowship entails tying the extensive oceanographic data collected by the three OOS Regional Associations (NANOOS, CeNCOOS and SCCOOS) into globally-relevant issues of marine debris and ocean acidification. Marine debris and ocean acidification are growing problems along the U.S. west coast, as shellfish industries suffer from the effects of increasingly acidic upwelled waters, and more land-based debris washes into the oceans and is scattered by current movements. State, local and nonprofit agencies have been working together to reduce these on-going issues, but they are realizing the importance of better understanding how ocean processes interact with and affect marine debris and ocean acidification.

Tracking the Ocean's Current Movements - Example CORDC HF Radar current tracking data that we plan to analyze for correlations with marine debris movements (Photo courtesy of SCCOOS HF Radar Program).

Tracking the ocean’s current movements – Example CORDC HF Radar current tracking data that we plan to analyze for correlations with marine debris movements (Photo courtesy of SCCOOS HF Radar Program).

The OOS RAs collect and compile various oceanographic data parameters for their respective regions. These datasets include high-frequency (HF) radar tracks of surface currents, modeled and real-time wind data, and in situ physical and biological measurements collected via moored point stations, cruise tracks and autonomous gliders. I am working with west coast marine managers to determine their specific oceanographic needs, and to map and connect these ocean data parameters where relevant.

On the marine debris front, I am working with the WCGA Marine Debris Action Coordination Team to determine available marine debris data, and how oceanographic parameters affect debris movements. I am exploring surface currents data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Coastal Observing Regional and Development Center (CORDC), and wind data tracked by SCCOOS, CeNCOOS and the Naval Research Laboratory, to determine best options for data tie-ins. We hope to eventually correlate marine debris movements with both oceanographic and freshwater flows, to determine land-based debris sources and to create forecasts of marine debris beach landings. These efforts will allow managers to more effectively plan beach cleanups, and to target and reduce land-based debris sources.

Taking Inventory - West Coast Ocean Observing Systems (OOS) Regional Associations Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, compiled August 2012. Part of my work aims to update this inventory to include all current west coast OA monitoring assets (inventory available here).

Taking Inventory – West Coast Ocean Observing Systems (OOS) Regional Associations Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, compiled August 2012. Part of my work aims to update this inventory to include all current west coast OA monitoring assets (inventory available here).

My work with ocean acidification (OA) has involved re-assessing the Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, first initiated by the California Current Acidification Network (C-CAN) and compiled by the west coast OOS RAs in August 2012. The OA Assets Inventory maps and tracks all west coast OA monitoring methods. While I still don’t know exactly how and where I will be tying oceanographic data into the larger picture of OA monitoring and management, I am beginning to assess the oceanographic data needs of OA managers, so that I can eventually provide them with access to data that will help inform their decisions.

           I am thrilled to begin both of these projects, and look forward to developing further connections with stakeholders within the marine debris, OA and oceanographic communities!

Video: Beyond River Mile Five

For nearly 100 years wild salmon populations along the Elwha River, located at the heart of Olympic National Park, have been limited to a five-mile stretch of the 45 mile-long river below the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. In September 2011 engineers began the Nation’s second largest ecological restoration project; a three-year dam removal process, allowing wild salmon and other anadromous fish populations to return to the upper channels and tributaries of the river. But how effective will these restoration efforts be, and how do we measure success? Kinsey Frick, George Pess, and John McMillan, scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, in partnership with other federal, state and tribal organizations in the region are working together to find answers to these important questions. Their research will not only help us understand the impacts of dam removal on wild salmon populations and ecosystems in the Elwha and allow managers to manage the recovering system adaptively, but also help inform future river restoration projects throughout the country.

The Oyster in the Shellfish Farm

This is the second part in our three-part investigation of how Ocean Acidification is affecting the West Coast. Please see the Jan. 10th article “A Huge Experiment” for excellent discussion of what Ocean Acidification is and what causes it.

We’ve all heard of the canary in the coal mine, the idea that certain animals can act as alarms of changing conditions. Well, say “hello” to the oyster in the shellfish farm! Just as canaries warned miners of dangerous gasses in mine shafts, oysters are now warning shellfish growers about increasing acidity in the oceans. Shellfish growers are paying attention and working with scientists to develop monitoring approaches to understand how changing ocean conditions are impacting west coast ecosystems, and their bottom line.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, located on Netart’s Bay, Oregon, is the second largest producer of shellfish larvae for the West Coast. Using nutrient rich water from the bay, their operation spawns, grows and ships billions of baby shellfish to aquaculturists from Canada to South America. In 2008, they had a sudden and mysterious decline in the production of their larvae that nearly crippled their business and their ability to supply larvae to a $100 million industry that depended on them. At this same time, water saturated with high CO2 was hitting the Pacific coast, and it became clear that this corrosive water was severely impacting the ability of shellfish in their vulnerable developing early stages.

I got a chance to visit Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in late 2011 to tour their facility and learn about a collaboration between the co-owner, Mark Weigart, and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, led by George Waldbusser. The collaboration was focused on understanding the physiological processes that the corrosive water was having on larval organisms and developing adaptation strategies to prevent hatchery die-offs. Among the large plastic tanks containing billions of larvae, a small laptop with sensors is hooked up to the piping system that delivers bay water to the hatchery. The team of scientists developed this homemade monitoring system to measure water chemistry and inform hatchery owners if the water will harm shellfish larvae. This helps a lot, and the system also takes advantage of information from offshore Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) to send a warning to the hatchery when cold highly acidified water is on its way to Whiskey Creek. The operators can then reduce the amount of water they pull from the bay or supplement the water to reduce its impact on the larvae.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the West Coast, there are three IOOS regional associations (CeNCOOS, SCCOOS, NANOOS) who work together to provide comprehensive data and forecasts for the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Recently, the West Coast IOOS’ have explored partnerships with the West Coast Governors Alliance (WCGA) on tackling issues of regional significance, like ocean acidification.

These monitoring approaches and adaptation strategies are helping Whiskey Creek and other hatcheries on the coast deal with the effects of ocean acidification and highlight the importance of regional ocean observing data in improving our understanding of changing ocean conditions. Have you seen effects of ocean acidification on your part of the coast?