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For Immediate Release, November 16, 2010

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 658-5308

EPA Affirms Threat of Ocean Acidification, Recommends Coastal States Take Action

SAN FRANCISCO— Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Agency is recommending that coastal states begin addressing ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. The announcement arose from the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Center in Washington state, the first of its kind challenging the EPA’s failure to address ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act.

“This marks an important step toward protecting life in our oceans,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “The Clean Water Act has successfully reduced water pollution for decades, and now it can be brought to bear on ocean acidification, a huge and growing threat to marine life around the globe.”

As oceans absorb carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere, waters are becoming more and more acidic. The water is increasingly corrosive to shellfish and corals and impairs the ability of marine animals to build the protective shells they need to survive. Nearly every marine animal studied to date has experienced adverse effects due to acidification. Under stress from ocean acidification, some corals are already growing more slowly and will begin to erode faster than they can build within decades. Acidification has contributed to oysters failing to reproduce for the past six years in the Pacific Northwest.

“Ocean acidification is one of the biggest threats to our marine environment,” said Sakashita. “Oyster hatcheries are already failing, and fishermen fear the collapse of the ocean food web. CO2 is changing ocean chemistry so rapidly that the corals, plankton, fish and shellfish are at risk. We need prompt action to curb CO2 pollution, and the Clean Water Act can help.”

According to the EPA, states should identify waters impaired by ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. Also, the EPA is urging states to gather data on ocean acidification, develop methods for identifying waters affected by ocean acidification, and create criteria for measuring the impact of acidification on marine ecosystems.

Scientists have confirmed widespread ocean acidification due to CO2 pollution. A survey off the West Coast showed that waters affected by ocean acidification are already upwelling onto the continental shelf and exposing marine life in surface waters to corrosive conditions. The Arctic also faces imminent consequences, and areas of the Arctic are expected to become corrosive by 2016.

The EPA plans to publish guidance for the states on addressing ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, it is encouraging states to focus their efforts on waters that are most vulnerable to ocean acidification, including those with coral reefs, fisheries and shellfish resources. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned all coastal states to identify their waters as impaired by ocean acidification. The Washington state lawsuit arose from one of those petitions.

For more information, see the Center’s ocean acidification webpage:

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