Ocean acidification (OA) is a direct result of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), which is altering the chemical balance of seawater that marine life (like shellfish, finfish and coral) need to grow, reproduce, and thrive. Combined with other impacts of climate change like ocean warming and reduced oxygen levels, marine species and ecosystems are under increasing stress.
This matters to communities that depend on these species for food, economies, and cultural practices or traditions. In fact, reports show that ocean warming and acidification have already affected food production including shellfish aquaculture and fisheries in some regions (IPCC, 2022). These trends are especially alarming when paired with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2022 report, “State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture” which shows that global consumption of aquatic foods has increased significantly, with the world now consuming more than five times the quantity consumed nearly 60 years ago.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the global policy framework for reducing greenhouse gases—including CO2—and addressing climate change. In 2019, the UNFCCC called for an Ocean and Climate Dialogue to discuss options for strengthening ocean mitigation and adaptation measures in response to the mounting impacts of greenhouse gases on our ocean.
Like all aspects of climate change, ocean acidification will have disproportionate impacts on some frontline and indigenous communities, whether due to geographic location or specific reliance on (or connection to) species that are most threatened by climate-ocean change.
For example, the Makah Tribe is an indigenous tribe with ancestral homelands on the Olympic Coast of the Pacific Ocean in North America. For thousands of years, the Pacific Ocean and coastline has provided the Makah people with spiritual and physical sustenance from fishing, shellfish harvesting and hunting. Today, climate change and ocean acidification are changing the nearby waters, impacting the Makah people’s food security as well as cultural and spiritual links to the marine environment.
“On our watch, our cultural and spiritual values are being impacted to the point that we might lose them,” Bowechop worries. “That is highly unsettling to us; I simply can’t deal with that. It’s my responsibility to make sure my children and my extended family can maintain and exercise our cultural practices.”
Nearly all Makah households rely on seafood for a portion of their diet. Further the Makah Tribal government has legally enforced treaty rights to fish for halibut, salmon, groundfish, flatfish, whiting, Dungeness crab, and other species in the region.
In response to climate change’s local impact, the Makah Tribe has launched a number of initiatives and policy efforts to understand ocean acidification’s impacts and find coastal solutions that center the tribe’s sovereignty, resilience, and community priorities. This includes co-leadership of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s ocean acidification “sentinel site,” which enhances understanding of the region’s natural, social, and historical resources and how they are changing under climate change. The Makah are also developing their own Ocean Acidification Action Planand have developed a “First Foods Climate Resilience Plan.”
Together with 3 other sovereign tribal nations of the Olympic Coast—the Hoh Tribe, Quileute Tribe, and Quinault Indian Nation—the Makah Tribe’s efforts were featured during the 2020 UNFCCC Ocean and Climate Dialogue. Their efforts helped highlight the importance of tackling climate-ocean change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, and supporting adaptation responses that are unique to localized priorities and needs.
However, the Makah Tribe’s situation is not unique. Around the world, Tribal governments, indigenous and First Nation communities are leading the charge to identify and address the impacts of climate-ocean change often in response to mounting pressures.
This year, the NFC Ocean and Climate Dialogue was held June 13-14 in Bonn, Germany. During opening remarks, Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, stated, “marine ecosystems are changing as the ocean warms, acidifies and deoxygenates — with adverse effects on aquatic food and local economies.” Mr Razan al Mubarak represented the United Arab Emirates as the incoming UNFCCC COP President, remarking that COP28 will be emphasizing the role of food systems and food security in meeting our global climate mitigation and adaptation goals.
Going forward, the UNFCCC and other global frameworks must ensure adequate and equitable investments are being made in climate-ocean change information and actions that result in better, mitigation and adaptation choices for all—particularly as relates to local food security and sovereignty.
About the OA Alliance:
The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance) is a partner and signatory to the Rise Up Blue Call to Action. The OA Alliance brings together governments and organizations from across the globe dedicated to increasing ambition for climate action and transforming the global response to climate-ocean change. The OA Alliance includes over 120 members across 22 countries representing a diversity of national, state, municipal, and sovereign tribal, indigenous, and First Nation governments along with many dedicated affiliate partners like NGOs, seafood industry leaders, and local academia. Learn more at www.oalliance.org
This is a guest blog and may not necessarily represent the views of other RISE UP network members or RISE UP as a whole. It is only through open dialogue and a diversity of ideas that we will arrive at the solutions necessary to restore Ocean health.