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For Immediate Release, August 15, 2007

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 436-9682 x 308

Seven Coastal States Petitioned to Address Ocean Acidification:
Clean Water Act Requires Regulation of Carbon Dioxide
That Could Drive Ocean Species Extinct  

SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Center for Biological Diversity officially requested seven coastal states to declare ocean waters under their jurisdiction impaired under the Clean Water Act due to ocean acidification, the changing of seawater chemistry through absorption of human-produced carbon dioxide.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to revise their list of “impaired” water bodies — those that fail to meet water-quality standards — on a periodic basis; listing a water body as impaired under the Clean Water Act allows states to set limits on the discharge of pollutants that are contributing to impairment. The Center for Biological Diversity submitted data to the states showing that the ocean waters of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, New York, and New Jersey are being degraded by carbon dioxide absorption. The Center filed similar petitions requesting California to list its ocean waters as impaired earlier this year.

“While global warming is finally being recognized as the very real threat that it is, the ‘other CO 2 problem’ — ocean acidification — is quietly, lethally altering the fundamental chemistry of the world’s oceans,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center’s Oceans Program. “We must act now to prevent global warming’s evil twin, ocean acidification, from destroying our ocean ecosystems.”

The atmosphere and ocean freely exchange carbon dioxide, and as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide increase, so does the absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean. The ocean takes up about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide each day and has absorbed about half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities. This excess carbon dioxide changes the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic: Ocean acidity, measured in pH, has already changed 0.11 pH on average due to human-generated carbon dioxide since preindustrial times — a significant, approximately 30-percent rise in acidity. If current emissions trajectories continue, an additional change of 0.5 units is predicted by the end of the century. These changes will be irreversible on human timescales.

Already, ocean acidification is damaging surface waters and having an impact on marine ecosystems. It makes unavailable the compounds necessary for marine organisms to build shells and skeletons, thus impeding the growth of plankton, starfish, urchins, oysters and other shelled organisms as well as coral. Due to ocean acidification, coral reefs will begin to erode more quickly than they can rebuild. And these changes are occurring so quickly that marine life will have great difficulty adapting to changing seawater chemistry.

The Clean Water Act requires that states consider the ocean-acidification data submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and determine whether ocean waters should be included on the list of impaired water bodies for 2008. If ocean waters are listed, the law would require states to limit carbon dioxide pollution entering the ocean waters under their jurisdiction. Ocean waters are a major source of biological diversity, productivity, and social and economic activity; their protection should be in the best interest of the states.

“The Clean Water Act is our nation’s most effective law protecting water quality, and the gravest long-term threat to our oceans is from carbon dioxide pollution. The law is clear that carbon dioxide emissions resulting in ocean acidification can and must be regulated under the Clean Water Act,” said Sakashita.

More information is available at  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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