Legislation would strengthen federal investments in researching ocean acidification and its effects on coastal communities


Washington (October 25, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today introduced the Ocean, Coastal and Estuarine Acidification Necessitates (OCEAN) Research Act. This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation, which lapsed in 2012. The bill strengthens investment in research and monitoring of poorly-understood acidification processes in coastal and estuarine areas, and engages coastal communities and the seafood industry through an Advisory Board and collaborative research grants. 


Ocean acidification, a consequence of carbon dioxide forming acids when dissolved in seawater, is harmful for shellfish, coral reefs, and other marine life that are crucial for healthy ecosystems and coastal economies. In coastal areas, acidification may interact with warming waters, harmful algal blooms, and low-oxygen “dead zones” with potential multiplicative detrimental effects. Researchers have identified southern Massachusetts and Narragansett Bay as “acidification hotspots,” making the over $500 million Massachusetts shellfish industry particularly vulnerable. In Alaska, natural carbon-rich upwelling zones make the coasts especially susceptible to acidification, threatening the shellfish industry and important food sources for salmon.


“Healthy oceans support a healthy economy and planet, but ocean acidification is jeopardizing our oceans and the communities that rely on them,” said Senator Markey. “Acidification threatens marine life like oysters, mussels, lobsters, and scallops that are a way of life in New England, putting hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs at risk. It is critical that we bolster federal resources and partnerships for understanding the threat of ocean and coastal acidification and provide coastal communities with tools to respond.”


“As America’s leading seafood producer and home to more coastline than the contiguous Lower 48 states combined, Alaska is particularly vulnerable to changes in ocean conditions,” said Senator Sullivan. “Decreasing balance in ocean pH levels can threaten our fish species and coastal ecosystems, and, by extension, the very livelihood of our commercial fisheries and coastal communities. Policymakers in Washington—and all stakeholders—must rely on the best, most up-to-date data in order to develop effective responses to the challenge, which is why this legislation is so important. I thank my colleague Senator Markey, who represents another major American seafood producer, for joining me in championing invaluable scientific research and the health of our oceans.”


A copy of the bill can be found HERE.


“The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association is proud to support the OCEAN Research Act as the commercial lobster industry depends on a healthy ecosystem as do all of the species they sustainably harvest,” said Beth Casoni, Executive Director, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association. “The passage of this legislation would allow for the much-needed funding to expand our knowledge on the impacts of ocean acidification on the lobster resource and many other organisms that live in our oceans.  We would like to thank Senator Markey and his team for all their efforts to keep our fishermen fishing,”


“We all depend on a healthy ocean, whether we live on the coast or not,” said Dr. Sarah Cooley, Ocean Acidification Program Director, Ocean Conservancy. “By introducing this legislation, Senators Ed Markey and Dan Sullivan have taken a vital step in ensuring our ocean's health and protecting the communities who rely on the ocean for jobs, livelihoods, cultures and ways of life from Alaska to Massachusetts. We must continue to monitor and research ocean acidification and its impacts as well as prepare coastal communities to deal with this threat and preserve our coastlines and estuaries.”


“We need to develop tools that allow shellfish growers to be resilient in the face of waters growing more acidic each year,” said Bob Rheault, Executive Director, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. “Acidified waters already pose problems for early developmental stages of shellfish. This act will support vital research to help shellfish growers adapt to future conditions, supporting the thousands of jobs in our shellfisheries nationwide.”


A breakdown of the funding authorization in the legislation is:

  • $35.5 million each year from fiscal years 2020 through 2024 for NOAA to carry out ocean acidification research activities, with up to $5 million of the total per year dedicated to research conducted via partnerships between the seafood industry and academic institutions
  • $20 million each year for the National Science Foundation to carry out ocean acidification research program activities
  • $1 million for the National Academy of Sciences to study acidification and environmental stressors in estuaries


The Senate legislation includes bills introduced in the House of Representatives: Representative Suzanne Bonamici’s (OR-01) COAST Research Act (HR.1237), which passed the House on June 5); Representative Salud Carbajal’s (CA-24) Ocean Acidification Research Partnerships Act (HR.2448); and Representative Bill Posey’s (FL-08) NEAR Act (HR.988), which passed the House on June 5.