Ocean acidification impacts on coastal communities

Researchers gathered to formulate recommendations for policymakers on the mitigation, adaptation and research priorities needed to avoid the catastrophic impact of ocean acidification on coastal economies.

The threat of ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is “one of the greatest scourges from the development of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to have both concrete and global impact,” H.S.H Prince Albert of Monaco.  

The change in seawater chemistry caused by excess atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the ocean weakens coral reefs and slows their growth. A high CO2 ocean will affect marine organisms and the health of wider ecosystems, and has potentially huge consequences for coastal communities and their economies.

Ocean acidification is of significant growing concern for researchers modelling the type and magnitude of ocean acidification impacts, for governments identifying policy interventions and for coastal communities seeking to maintain current economic activities and benefits. This is where the Scientific Center of Monaco and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stepped in.

Bridging the Gap Between Ocean Acidification and Economic Valuation

Since 2010, the Scientific Center of Monaco and the Environment Laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency have organized a series of workshops on “Bridging the Gap Between Ocean Acidification and Economic Valuation” in order to convene international expertise, consolidate the current state of knowledge and make recommendations for policymakers in response to ocean acidification.

International workshop involving 53 experts from 20 countries

All of the international delegation attending the workshop

On 12-14 January 2015, 53 experts from 20 countries were invited on the occasion of the Third International Workshop to work on the potential effects of ocean acidification on different coastal communities and what could be done about it. I was one of them.

Our recommendations provide policymakers, managers and communities with natural and social sciences information to generate approaches to support sustainable development, while also seeking to reduce both the source and impacts of ocean acidification.

Interdisciplinary discussions

As experts from the natural and social sciences, we focused on three main topics:

  1. Coastal economic activities with a focus on fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.
  2. Modelling as a tool to evaluate bio-socio-economic impacts of ocean acidification.
  3. Potential measures to tackle ocean acidification including societal action and adaptation, better governance and legislation options. 

In multi-disciplinary working groups we discussed the impact of ocean acidification on fisheries, tourism, trade, marine business and traditional culture, along with potential adaptation and capacity-building policy responses for these sectors and governments. We considered ways to model the cascade of potential impacts of ocean acidification on human activities. We focused on pathways of impact and possible adaptations through social transformation in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

My role – Working group on coastal communities

As a socio-economist specialist of fisheries and aquaculture issues, I contributed specifically to the discussions of the working group on coastal communities who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, and for whom ocean acidification is a growing threat.

Our discussions focused on assessing the vulnerability of different countries and areas to ocean acidification. Factors such as habitat, resource and culture were taken into account and considered alongside the potential for adaptation strategies. Our key points were that:

Effective community responses to ocean acidification are likely to require effective management of change, a process guided by long-term vision and leadership, to drive sustainable use practices, particularly when the benefits largely accrue outside short-term political cycles.

Because of the global nature of ocean acidification, national governments and the international community have a big role to play to assist coastal communities in their responses. Actions include:

• Mainstreaming ocean acidification into climate change policies, plans and investment strategies at community and national levels (rather than creating additional new and separate responses);

• Raising knowledge and awareness of ocean acidification impacts and responses to inform policies and plans and to prioritise actions and investments;

• Building resilient and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, including through reduction of ocean acidification and non-ocean acidification stressors (e.g. reduction of CO2 emissions or pollution), supporting diversified coastal community economies and livelihood options, through community empowerment and community engagement in fisheries co-management;

• Accessing climate finance to (re)build ‘blue carbon’ sinks, such as mangrove forests, to explore possible local ocean acidification mitigation measures, or to ‘seed’ corals which show more resilience to ocean acidification;

• Fostering public and private investment in social, economic and environmental capital, particularly in communities and regions considered most vulnerable to the negative overall impacts of ocean acidification and other stressors, including in strengthening leadership and capacity in producer and community organisations.

Unhealthy corals affected by ocean acidification.

Outputs and visibility of the meeting

Results brought to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

In June 2015, the results of the meeting were circulated as a document of the 69th session of the General Assembly, under agenda item 74(a) Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

Report of the meeting
The report of the meeting (below) provides policymakers and marine resource managers with information and recommendations to prepare for social and economic impacts of ocean acidification on coastal communities. It is available here.