Monitoring the progress of ocean acidification

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a website aimed at keeping track of ocean acidification.

The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share findings and connect with concerned coastal residents.

Ocean acidification happens when carbon dioxide, generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, is absorbed by the ocean. The off-kilter chemistry causes seawater to become corrosive, making it tough for marine creatures to grow scales and shells.

Alaska is particularly susceptible to acidification because its waters are colder and hold more carbon dioxide.

"We are so reliant on the ocean for our lives and livelihood. The seafood industry is valued at about $5.8 billion every year, and it's the largest private sector employer in the state," said Darcy Dugan, project coordinator for the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

"The more educated Alaskans are, the more creative they can be in thinking about adaptation strategies and the more confident they can feel about working together to have a sustainable future," she added.

Since 2011 the ocean-observing system and its partners have sampled pH levels at moorings in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Researchers also take 1,200 shipboard water samples each year. Starting this fall, the network has partnered with the state ferry system to put measuring instruments onboard at least one vessel.


The average pH in the world's oceans today is 8.1, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic.

No direct effects of acidification are showing up yet in Alaska sea creatures, but computer models predict the ocean will become acidic sooner than previously thought.

"They are anticipating that the Beaufort Sea will be first to leave its natural range of pH variability around 2025, followed by the Chukchi in 2027 and the Bering in 2044," Dugan said.

"Based on global estimates of ocean acidification, the Bering Sea may reach a pH level of 7.5 to 7.8 in the next 75 to 100 years, if not earlier," estimated Bob Foy, director of NOAA's research lab at Kodiak.

"Once, it reaches those levels, there will be significant decreases in survival and … fishery yields and profits within 20 years," Foy added.

Ocean acidification in Alaska will be featured at the Aleutian Life Forum Tuesday in Unalaska and at a (free) "State of the Science" workshop Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Anchorage.

[Check out Aleutian Life Forum]

A brand to covet: Alaska

For the first time, the "Alaska" seafood brand has topped all others on menus across the nation.

"We do research every couple of years to look at brands that are featured on restaurant menus," said Claudia Hogue, food service director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The research was done by Chicago-based Datassentials, which has the nation's largest database of U.S. menus.

"Alaska seafood ranks highest among … proteins for the first time," she said. "Research shows that consumers are trying to eat healthier by the choices they're making at the restaurant."

"Alaska seafood" appears on 3.4 percent of all menus, compared to "certified Angus," with 3.1 percent, and "Norwegian" at 1.9 percent.

The Alaska brand also outranked many other well-known food category brands, including Hershey's, Kahlua, Tabasco and Grand Marnier.

Can shrimp shells help wine drinkers?

Shrimp shells may offer a solution to harmful sulfites found in wine. Currently, wine producers add sulfites such as sulfur dioxide to keep wine fresh during storage. But sulfur dioxide damages the atmosphere, and can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Green Chemistry reports researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal have discovered thin films made from the polymer chitin in shrimp shells removes traces of iron and copper in wine barrels. This would prevent bacterial growth or oxidation reactions, both of which can harm the wine's flavor.

In taste-tests the new material performed as well as or better than sulfite preservatives. The researchers said "the process of making the shrimp based additive is easy to scale up for wholesale production and it could be adapted for other drinks in future."

Fish eyes

Bureo, a Los Angeles startup that makes skateboards from marine debris, has broadened its fight against pollution by launching the world's only collection of sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets.


The Ocean Collection is designed by Chilean eyewear company Karun from nets collected by Net Positiva, a recycling program developed and operated by Bureo, which means "waves." Last year, the program collected more than 110,000 pounds of fishing nets from 16 communities in the country.

"Discarded fishing gear," Bureo points out in its video, "accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the ocean's plastic pollution."

The program has earned recognition from the U.S. State Department and won an innovation award and grant funding from the Chilean Government.

The Bureo fishnet sunglasses cost $139.


Laine Welch | Fish Factor

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at