Action We Can All Take to Help the Worlds Oceans

West Marine's Randy Repass, and Oceana's Sally-Christine Rodgers write an open letter about how we can all make a difference when it comes to the health of the world's oceans. A "Special Report" for our June 25, 2009, CW Reckonings.

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Dear Boater,

We generally don't stray very far from our mission of trying to provide you with excellent products and services for your boat and boating lifestyle. Perhaps it's that West Marine has reached the ripe old age of 40, or perhaps it's the state of some of the world's natural resources, but we feel compelled to make an exception to our normal policy and attempt to help raise the awareness of some significant risks that this and future generations of boaters and the world are facing.

We're simply trying to be good stewards of the oceans and marine environments, for the benefit of all. We hope you'll accept our opinions, advice, and call to action as sincere, positive and responsible, then act as you see fit; as that's how it is intended.

We are both lifelong boaters. What we have learned from sailing across the Pacific over the past 6 years, and especially from scientists focused on marine conservation, is startling. Whether you spend time on the water or not, Ocean Acidification affects all of us and is something we believe you will want to know about.

What would you do if you knew that many species of fish and other marine life in the ocean will be gone within 30 years if levels of C02 continue increasing at their present rate? We believe you would take action to stop this from happening, because informed people make informed choices. This letter is about what we can and must do together now to help solve a very serious but little-known problem, Ocean Acidification.

Ocean Acidification is primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels. When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ends up in the ocean it changes the pH, making the sea acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, CO2 reduces calcium carbonate, which prevents creatures from forming shells and building reefs. In fact, existing shells will start to dissolve. Oysters and mussels will not be able to build shells. Crabs and lobsters? Your great-grandchildren may wonder what they tasted like.

Carbon dioxide concentrated in the oceans is making seawater acidic. Many of the zooplankton, small animals at the base of the food web, have skeletons that won't form in these conditions, and sea-life further up the food chain - fish, mammals and seabirds that rely on zooplankton for food will also perish. No food - no life. One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. Many scientific reports document that worldwide, humans are already consuming more food than is being produced. The implications are obvious.

The issue of Ocean Acidification is causing irreversible loss to species and habitats, and acidification trends are happening up to ten times faster than projected. We want you to know what this means, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it.

Today, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is about 387 parts per million (ppm) and increasing at 2 ppm per year. If left unaddressed, by 2040 it is projected to be over 450 parts per million, and marine scientists believe the collapse of many ocean ecosystems will be irreversible. Acidification has other physiological effects on marine life as well, including changes in reproduction, growth rates, and even respiration in fish.

Tropical and coldwater corals are among the oldest and largest living structures on earth; the richest in terms of biodiversity, they provide spawning areas, nursery habitat and feeding grounds for a quarter of all species in the sea. Coral reefs are at risk! As C02 concentrations increase, corals, shellfish and other species that make shells will not be able to build their skeletons and will likely become extinct.

The good news is we can fix this problem. But, as you guessed, it will be difficult. Ocean Acidification and global warming are caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Solving one will solve the other. Passage of HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act" is a first step in reducing CO2 emissions, and deserves our support, but the bill needs to be strengthened.

"The intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that in order to stabilize C02 in the atmosphere at 350 ppm by 2050, global carbon emissions need to be cut 85% below 2000 levels." That's a very tall order! And the way our political system works (or doesn't) makes it tougher. It will take all of us to step up and take responsibility to make this happen.

Here is what you can do: Contact your Representative now using one of these techniques, listed in order of effectiveness.

1. Visit your Representative at their local office. It is easy to make an appointment. Tell them your concerns about CO2 and the oceans, and to strengthen the Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act" H.R. 2454. The experience is rewarding. (Alternatively, drop a letter off at their local office.)

2. Call your representative and leave a message urging action be taken to reduce CO2 and to address Ocean Acidification and strengthen the Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act" H.R. 2454.

3. Click on this link to send an email, which will go directly to your representative based on your address. www.oceana.org/acid

You may use the letter provided, but it is more effective to edit it, and in your own words urge them to strengthen the Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act" H.R. 2454.

Ocean Acidification is an issue we can do something about. We need a groundswell of informed citizens to get Congress to have the backbone to stand up to the entrenched interests of coal, oil, and gas and not compromise on the reduction of CO2. We also need real leadership to aggressively create jobs using sustainable technologies. The choice is ours. We can solve this or not. What we do know is that the future facing our children, grandchildren and indeed all of humankind depends on our decision.

Sincerely,

Randy Repass, Chairman West Marine

Sally-Christine Rodgers, Oceana