Ocean Acidification’s New Adventure — Nancy Lord’s pH: a Novel

Date Posted: November 11, 2017       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

phcoverReview by: Courtney Schuman, AMCC Intern

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Lord, a founding member of AMCC and author of the new science-in-fiction novel entitled ph: A Novel.

pH: A Novel provides a futuristic account of Ocean Acidification through fiction and science. Nancy Lord has produced a unique work that brings ocean acidification to life in a way not many have attempted before. Lord and a few other authors (like Barbara Kingsolver and her book Flight Behavior) have ventured into the genre of science in fiction, as opposed to science fiction. In pH, Lord allows real science to intermingle with fictional characters. Using a bit of humor, Lord is able to take the rather daunting topic of Ocean Acidification and make it into an enjoyable read.

Lord has a Master of Fine Arts and is no foreigner to the field of Ocean Acidification. She has been a Homer, Alaska resident for 44 years, commercial fished for many of those years and was a founding member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Her research for this novel included participation on a scientific cruise, attendance at an Ocean Acidification Conference in Monterey Bay, and extensive reading.

Lord had a vision to place her novel in the future, which made for an interesting battle with the fast-developing field of Ocean Acidification. It was almost as if it was a race between the scientists and Lord to see who could find the next piece of the puzzle first.

Even though pH is a science-based book, Lord has made this adventure accessible to all readers. This book is perfect for any reader who is interested in science but still enjoys a well told fictional story. The novel takes place entirely in Alaska, focusing on the Alaskan experience of science and the effects of Ocean Acidification.

The seriousness of Ocean Acidification is acknowledged in Lord’s novel, but she hopes that the main takeaway by readers includes some joy as well as learning. She has said, “The big problem is that the solution is so difficult. The solution is reducing our carbon emissions….we need to be adaptive and resilient.”

To find out more about Nancy Lord and any of her books, please visit her website:








Understanding Ocean Acidification Close to Home

Date Posted: February 23, 2017       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska, Working Waterfronts

By Hannah Heimbuch

Ocean acidification (OA) is a growing field of study across the globe, one that seafood producers and their communities continue to keep a close eye on. AMCC partners with groups around the state to promote this important dialogue throughout Alaska’s coastal communities.

Fishermen and scientists connect in Sitka

Most recently, that work took us to Sitka for a roundtable discussion between fishermen, community members, and OA researchers, supported by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. Twenty-five Sitka residents joined us for this Q&A session with a diverse team of scientists, led by oceanographer Jessica Cross of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sitka hosted a recent roundtable on ocean acidification, and is home an array of community monitoring projects.

Sitka hosted a recent roundtable on ocean acidification, and is home an array of community monitoring projects.

Questions from the group focused on the impact of OA on food web dynamics and commercially important species. Scientists highlighted the long-term nature of their work, including the need for sustained monitoring to create a healthy baseline of OA data. This baseline helps us better understand the changes taking place, how those changes might impact the ecosystems we rely on, and how we might respond or adapt to them.

OA data collection and monitoring is a critical component to adaptive, ecosystem-based fisheries management. Understanding how ocean conditions are changing is an important first step towards risk assessment and, ultimately, building a path forward to adapt to changing conditions. Because the waters of the North Pacific are so large, and because the need for data is so great, stakeholder participation and coordination between stakeholders and management agencies is essential.

The Sitka discussion highlighted fisherman and community interest in participating in this process, with a focus on opportunities to meaningfully contribute to data collection. It also highlighted interest from the scientists in pursuing research that helps fishing communities and their stakeholders make strong decisions for their futures. A continuing dialogue between the research field and these communities is an important piece of sustaining the livelihoods and diverse species dependent on a thriving marine ecosystem.

State of the Science workshop draws OA experts from Alaska and beyond

A child explores the OA kiosk at Whalefest in Sitka last November.

A child explores AMCC’s ocean acidification kiosk at Whalefest in Sitka last November.

AMCC began promoting this meeting format on the heels of a successful state of the science workshop, coordinated by the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network. This workshop highlighted interest in inspiring a more robust dialogue between OA experts and seafood stakeholders, among other strong initiatives taking place around the state. Additional community Q&A sessions will take place this spring. Follow AMCC on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Regional and nearshore monitoring underway in Southeast

In Southeast Alaska, residents can keep tabs on a variety of projects collecting vital information close to home. This region of the state is unique in the interesting array of OA monitoring efforts being led by Sitka Sound Science Center, the Sitka Tribe and the Alaska Marine Highway. In addition, the Sitka harbor master’s office is currently home to AMCC’s ocean acidification kiosk. This touchscreen device offers a unique learning experience, sharing information about OA and testimonials from stakeholders around the state.

Join the Alaska OA Network and stay informed

New monitoring projects and opportunities to weigh in on this important issue are growing every day. To keep up-to-date on OA news in Alaska and how to participate, join the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network. Another great opportunity to engage in ecosystem observations is the Local Environmental Observer Network, a Northern tribal collective that offers members an opportunity to share observations about local environmental events.

Hannah Heimbuch is AMCC’s Homer-based Community Fisheries Organizer. She can be reached at hannah@akmarine.org.

AMCC Visits Sitka’s Whalefest to Talk Acidification and Ecosystems

By Hannah Heimbuch

Unless chemistry is your chosen language, ocean acidification can be a little unwieldy.

It is impressively global and microscopic, a chemical shift in seawater driven by diverse factors, including the absorption of as much as half of our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. Its impacts and implications are not fully understood, and research and technology in this arena are relatively new. After all, it has been 55 million years since Earth experienced a major acidification event, and it’s happening 10 times faster this time around. This shift is even more pronounced in cold northern latitudes, like the waters around Alaska.

In 2015, Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Cook Inletkeeper teamed up to develop a touchscreen ocean acidification kiosk, an educational tool that features video testimonials from fishermen, scientists, and community leaders all speaking about this complex issue. After its launch in Homer, and a long summer season spent in Kodiak, the kiosk made a Gulf of Alaska leap this last month and landed in Sitka. It’s stationed at the harbormaster’s office, slated to stay through the winter.

hannah-and-sophie-2AMCC staffers Hannah and Jonalyn arrived in Sitka in time for Whalefest, where they shared the kiosk with festivalgoers before its harbor-side installation. Ocean acidity is one of countless critical elements that influence a marine habitat. This aspect of the seawater climate impacts critters from pteropods to the very whales being celebrated in Sitka during Whalefest week. Pteropods in particular (an essential food for many birds, fish and marine mammals) are sensitive to changes in acidity. They need calcium-based building blocks to construct their shells, much like crabs, corals, and clams. In seawater with higher acidity, those calcium building blocks start to break down, and there’s less available to those that need them to thrive.

There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding ocean acidification (OA) and how it will affect our marine ecosystem. AMCC is working to connect coastal communities to quality information and opportunities to stay informed. Part of our goal in Sitka is to link people up with the growing Alaska Ocean Acidification Network. Coordinated by the Alaska Ocean Observing System, this new collaboration aims to bring diverse stakeholders together around this complex issue, broadening the understanding of ocean acidification trends in Alaska, and the potential for adaptation and mitigation. Collaborators include scientists, aquaculture and fishing industries, coastal communities, decision makers and the general public.20161107_140653

The Network serves as a connector, communicator and resource on ocean acidification, working to share information and research practices among those studying this evolving issue, and those impacted by it.

As fishermen we know that we are a part of and dependent on a profoundly complex and dynamic natural system. We also know that when that system experiences significant change, we can expect to see that change ripple through the ecological framework of our ocean world. This is the lens through which many fishermen see ocean acidification. This is why we know it’s time to pay close attention to what comes next.

Because of this lens, we have big questions. How will this fundamental change in chemistry affect the local coastline and creatures? Will there be shifts in food web dynamics that alter marine populations and the industries that harvest them? These are detailed issues, but they address the big stuff: food, work, and environment. And we all have a stake in the answers.

hannah-quoteOur ability to continue living an ocean-dependent life relies on our ability to stay connected to the best possible science and dialogue around this and other major changes in the ecosystem.

While in Sitka, AMCC was able to host a roundtable with fishermen and local leaders, discussing ecosystem-based fisheries management and what it currently and could look like to let an ecosystem-wide lens inform our resource management choices.

With an ecosystem-minded approach to studying and managing our natural resources, we take into account the fact that we are dependent on not one solitary element of a natural habitat, but that habitat in its entirety. That includes the marine mammals off our coastline, the salmon charging upstream, the seasonally blooming plankton, and the chemical composition of their ever-shifting environments.

By participating in and creating opportunities for an active dialogue on issues that impact our marine environment, AMCC will continue to be a connector between diverse stakeholders and important resources.

Feeling inspired to take action? Subscribe to the Ocean Acidification Network listserv to receive information about this issue and upcoming opportunities to learn more. And stay tuned in Sitka for more developments around the ocean acidification kiosk this winter, including development of new videos, naming the kiosk, and more.

Congratulations and thank you to the Sitka Sound Science Center and Whalefest Coordinator extraordinaire Mia Kuartei for an excellent job on this year’s festival. And another thank you to Lauren Bell and Dane McFadden for their help coordinating the kiosk’s installation, and building a sturdy stand for it to live on. AMCC can’t wait to head back to Sitka!

Hannah Heimbuch is AMCC’s Homer-based Community Fisheries Organizer. She can be reached at hannah@akmarine.org. 

Sign on to Support Ocean Acidification Research

Date Posted: January 22, 2016       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Get Involved, Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

Congress will soon undertake important funding decisions for Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM). Right now, it is critical that they hear from you! 

walterskids_zps71c07375Ocean acidification (OA) is caused by the increased uptake of carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the earth’s atmosphere. Acidification makes it harder for shell-forming species such as oysters, clams, crabs and some tiny zooplankton to form their shells. It also fundamentally alters many other natural processes (e.g. growth, reproduction, etc.) necessary for healthy marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. Sufficient funding is needed to understand this global problem and its impacts here in Alaska. The administration has recommended $30 million be included in the new NOAA budget for ocean acidification research. This increased funding will improve experimental research, add more observing stations to monitor acidification and study effects on valuable marine species so that we can be better prepared for the effects of ocean acidification in Alaska. Request this of our congressional delegation today by filling out the form below.

Sign the Letter by February 12th to Ask Congress to Increase Funding for Essential Ocean Acidification Research

To the Alaska Congressional Delegation:

We are writing to urge you to support the President’s FY17 NOAA ocean acidification research funding amount of [$30 million].  Ocean acidification is changing the very chemical nature of our oceans, harming a multitude of important species today and threatening more in the future. Not only are Alaskan waters particularly susceptible to changes in ocean chemistry, but fishermen, shellfish farmers, and coastal communities across the state depend on productive coastal areas for their jobs, cultural traditions, food security and recreation.

These communities and essential systems will suffer if we don’t respond to the challenge of ocean acidification. Federal research dollars can help avert impacts by deepening our scientific understanding of the problem, enabling local businesses to remain productive through awareness and adaptation, and active planning on next steps, both locally and nationally.

This line item will enable our federal and state scientists to inform policymakers’ response to this challenge and allow them to work with local communities and sectors that will be affected.  Increased funding for Integrated Ocean Acidification in the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research within NOAA will provide desperately needed resources and make sure we address one of the most critical threats to coastal communities and oceans today.

Thank you for your time and consideration of our request.


Talking Fish from Portland to Portland, Coast to Coast

By Hannah Heimbuch, Community Fisheries Organizer

Gloucester Snow

Very snowy Gloucester, where the sidewalks were buried in at least 5 ft. of snow!

At the end of February, while Homer basked in 40-degree weather, I ventured out for a visit to a very wintery New England. In Gloucester I was able to spend three days with members of the Fish Locally Collaborative, a diverse group of marine conservationists that work to create a healthy ocean through community based fisheries and other important efforts.

This valuable face-to-face meeting allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the unique members and joint capacity of the FLC. I have a broader understanding of the social, environmental and economic movements taking shape within the marine conservation world, and how our work in Alaska informs and is informed by those efforts.

I was particularly excited to hear about the ways other organizations have translated positive energy and good ideas into meaningful actions for healthy marine ecosystems, and marine based coastal economies. I met leaders of the Slow Fish movement, individuals doing important research into community-based fisheries models, sustainable seafood marketers building direct relationships between chefs and fishermen, and many others. The diverse projects and programs being run by the independent members of this collaborative reflect a worldwide community of people working hard for sustainably managed fisheries and strong fishing communities.

Fish Locally Collaborative dinner in Gloucester - Chef Amanda Parks from Slow Fish is holding a paella dish with crab and mussels - yum!!

Fish Locally Collaborative dinner in Gloucester – Chef Amanda Parks from Slow Fish is holding a paella dish with crab and mussels – yum!!

After several days of conversation with these inspiring people, I ventured up to Portland, Maine for visits with our marine conservation colleagues in the north. An FLC member from Penobscot East Resource Center let me hitch a ride with him up from Gloucester, and gave me the rundown on Maine lobster fishery management. The next day I met with Susie Arnold from the Island Institute to talk about Ocean Acidification awareness and research. (Click here to see an excellent video on ocean acidification that AMCC collaborated with the Institute to create a few years ago.)

I met Lucy Van Hook from the Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association to talk community fisheries. Hugh Cowperthwaite from Coastal Enterprises Inc. took a chilly walk with me through some of Portland’s small, thriving fish markets as well as the Portland Fish Exchange. The PFE is a seafood auction warehouse — one of only a handful on the eastern seaboard — that handles nearly 100 percent of Maine’s finfish. I wrapped this incredible visit up with a conversation with Alexa Dayton from Gulf of Maine Research Institute. I learned about the Marine Resource Education Program’s work to offer expert training to marine industry workers on fisheries management and science, further empowering fishermen to weigh in on the decisions and research that impacts their coastal ecosystems and economies. Before leaving Alexa showed me around the gear lab at GMRI, where engineers work closely with fishermen to improve their gear and practices for sustainable fishing.

AstoriaI flew out of Boston with much food for thought and landed in the other Portland. While in Oregon, before making my way home to Alaska, I headed to the Pacific Coast to participate in the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria. A whole event just for fisherpeople who write? Sounds like the place for me. To be sure, I found my people on the waterfront that weekend. One of the first people I saw walking down the sidewalk in downtown Astoria was AMCC member and fisherpoet, Steven Schoonmaker. I visited an old wooden seiner, the owners of which are Kodiak fishermen that have long participated in the event (a photo of me next to the seiner is pictured right). I read some of my own work, and listened to funny, beautiful and profound stories from many others — including AMCC Board Member, Emilie Springer. Brad Warren from Global Ocean Health, in addition to sharing some fantastic music at the evening events, gave an excellent talk on ocean acidification at the Maritime Museum. I was also able to see the new film The Breach, an incredible look at salmon throughout human history. This event is an excellent showcase of the deep and complex connections that coastal communities have to our oceans and the traditions and work that take place on and alongside them. It comes out in our professional work, in the skills we pass down to our children, and in the art we create to celebrate it.

What an incredible two weeks, packed with information and introductions that will serve to enrich my work in marine conservation for years to come.

Science Team Tackles Ocean Acidification

Date Posted: March 4, 2015       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

by AMCC Board Member, Switgard Duesterloh of Kodiak
Originally published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror

Once again I find myself in classrooms at Kodiak Middle School talking about ocean acidification. The causes and background, the chemistry, and the effects on shell building animals and why it all matters for us in Kodiak are topics we discuss and explore with lectures and hands-on experiments. Due to a curriculum change I get to teach about ocean acidification in two grade levels this year; last year we learned about ecosystems in the ocean.

While those of you who read this column regularly are familiar with the topic, and it certainly is no longer new to science, there are still many people uneducated about the connection between the burning of fossil fuels and the chemical changes affecting our ocean and fisheries. Because fisheries and any long lasting and large changes to the fisheries are so important for all Alaskans, a push to teach ocean acidification in the school curriculum is making waves. In March, I  have been invited to a workshop in Juneau to share with other teachers how I approach the topic of ocean acidification in the classroom.

One of the things I always show the kids is a website called virtualurchin, which is created by the University of Stanford. Among a number of great online resources, there is a virtual laboratory where you can learn how sea urchin development is affected by an increase in ocean acidity. Several weeks ago a team of four 8th grade students contacted me and asked if they could replicate something like that virtual sea urchin experiment in the Kodiak Fisheries Research Laboratory. Making sure the team understood that any experiment you do for the first time carries the risk of not yielding any data, because there may be numerous things that can go wrong, we set out to study the larval development of green sea urchins under different acidification scenarios.

First, the students read a paper about a similar study. Then, they developed their experimental design and hypothesis, while I talked to one of the divers at the Kodiak Research Laboratory about getting a few urchins. When all was set, the team learned how to prepare a solution of potassium chloride and how to perform a volumetric measurement to determine how much solution to inject into each urchin to initiate spawning without causing harm to the animal. Since each student had watched the steps on the virtual lab they were able to perform the real life injections like a group of professionals.

Nature has a way of messing with science experiments. There is no way to tell from the outside whether a green sea urchin ismale or female. Out of the 8 urchins we had available, four were not ready to spawn and the other four were all males, which dutyfully released copious amounts of sperm into the test beakers. Referring to a study about when sea urchins around Kodiak get ready to spawn we knew that the males are a little sooner than the females. Determined not to give up that fast, we tried again four days later. This time we were in luck. Two females laid eggs and three males provided the sperm, so that the students were able to mix the gametes in beakers and add them to the three beakers with different degrees of acidification.

If we had had the time to check the eggs every few hours we could have studied early egg development. Realistically, the students could only come once a day to check on their experiment. After only a couple of days it became evident that the urchin larvae in the more acidified water were developing slower. On days three and four the students took random samples from each beaker and counted the proportions of fully developed, dead, and not fully developed larvae. Then, they had to translate their numbers into proportions to account for the fact that we did not start with the same amount of eggs in each treatment.

I continued the incubation over the next weekend and 10 days after the initial fertilization I took one last look at the larvae. In the most acidified water dead urchin lavae were getting consumed by a host of microbial organisms. In the control treatment beautiful sea urchin larvae with long spines were floating serenely through the water. In the less acidified water I found live sea urchin larvae, however their spines were stunted and shorter.

The hardest part of science is that the real work comes after the fun of discovery. Now, the students have to write a research paper and present their results. The paper will be submitted to an ecybermission science competition. If the team does an awesome job, they might be in the running for a $1,000 prize per student. That prize money may be a good motivator to do the work, but besides learning a lot about how to design an experiment, conduct it, use the lab equipment and record and analyse data, the students and I enjoyed watching the miracle of life starting on a microscope slide in front of our eyes. What an amazing experience!

Begich to Introduce Legislation Promoting OA Monitoring

Date Posted: August 18, 2014       Categories: AMCC in the News       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

Monday, U.S. Senator Mark Begich joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to call for a national strategy to address ocean acidification and prevent harm to Alaska and our nation’s commercial fishing industry. The announcement came during a stop at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory to see high-tech buoys that detect changes in ocean conditions…”

Read this Alaska Native News piece about Senator Begich’s new legislation to promote ocean acidification monitoring and protect Alaska fisheries.

A wake-up call in Alaska about ocean acidification and coastal communities

Date Posted: August 18, 2014       Categories: AMCC in the News       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

Read A wake-up call in Alaska about ocean acidification and coastal communities in the Alaska Dispatch News by Dr. Jeremy Mathis and Steve Colt

Highlight: “Findings indicate that communities in Alaska’s southeast and southwest         subsistence fisheries, are also the communities most at risk.”

Economic Warnings of Ocean Acidification

Date Posted: August 10, 2014       Categories: AMCC in the News       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

A new study was released last week essentially saying something Alaskans have been hearing for quite a while — the acidity levels in Alaska’s fish-rich waters pose an increasingly high danger to the fish and shellfish populations, and therefore, those Alaskans who depend on the oceans for their income and their subsistence stores.”

Read this Alaska Dispatch News article by Carey Restino who says Alaskans should heed new economic warnings of ocean acidification.

Island Institute Produces Ocean Acidification Video

Date Posted: June 10, 2014       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Acidification in Alaska

A Climate of Change: Ocean Acidification in Alaska

New video out by the Island Institute in a two part series about the effects of climate change on our nation’s fisheries. View the full report here. AMCC superstar members Alexus Kwachka and former board member Dave Kubiak are featured in the video discussing ocean acidification’s impacts on Alaska’s fisheries.

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