Small Steps can Yield Big Results

The fact that all of Earth’s seas are becoming more acidic is no longer in dispute. How this massive ocean acidification affects possibilities for the long term thriving of the human race is less-understood.

The nearly $10 grande-half-caff-latte I spilled in the gutter yesterday for being too bitter and pretentious went into the drainage grate on Pacific Ave. From there it ran directly into the Thea Foss waterway, within minutes adding more acid to our already increasingly acidic ocean.

This increase in ocean acidity is another byproduct from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil. Corals, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters, and many other aquatic life-forms are adversely affected by this change to our ocean’s chemical makeup.

Shellfish growers in Washington have already been feeling the effects. Oysters haven’t reproduced on their own in Willapa Bay since 2005, so growers there are forced to use hatchery-produced larvae. Owners of Goose Point Oysters have opened a hatchery in Hawaii where ocean circulation patterns foster more favorable conditions-for the time being anyway.

Among unseen contaminants like the lower pH levels in the water are elevated levels of zinc which poisons sea life near the Port of Tacoma’s facilities. Storm drains deliver the dissolved metal directly into the Bay which likely comes from the shipping containers and other zinc, coated infrastructure found in abundance there. Microorganisms near the bottom of the food chain are easily killed by the high zinc levels which in turn cause fish and other animals higher on the chain to disappear as their food supply does the same.

Rain gardens are planted depressions, like miniature lakes, which behave similar to a native forest by capturing and filtering storm water from rooftops, driveways, and other impervious surfaces. Oil, dissolved metals, and other toxins are captured before they can pollute our waters. Rain gardens help to recharge the local fresh water aquifers by increasing the amounts that soak in instead of draining directly to the Bay, providing habitat for wildlife and more pleasing landscaped appearances at a parking lot or at a building’s edges.

Instead of investing in a labor-intensive process involving small expensive filtering boxes which require frequent removal and safe disposal after they have been saturated with toxins, rain gardens provide a more long-term fix to the operational necessity of cleansing the pollutants produced in our working port.

We are now experiencing accelerating changes in the global climate that are evident in the water as well as in the air. Hurricane Sandy is an example of the more intense and more damaging super-storms experts warn us are likely becoming our new normal.

We can all take action by altering our own habits to improve our species chances of long-term survival. One seemingly small action upon another is what it will take to build a concerted effort by us all that has so far been lacking.