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For Immediate Release, October 11, 2011

Contact:  Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308

EPA Ignores Severe Risk of Ocean Acidification to California Coast

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a list of polluted waters in California today but ignored one of worst threats to the state’s coastal waters: ocean acidification. Years of scientific data demonstrate that California’s ocean waters are among the most vulnerable in the nation to ocean acidification, which not only threatens individual species but vast underwater ecosystems off the state’s coast. 

“California’s sea life is under direct threat from ocean acidification, so it’s vital that the EPA take action now rather than pretending this crisis doesn’t exist,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This isn’t some abstract problem. Waters affected by ocean acidification are already making their way to California’s shores and exposing marine species to corrosive, life-killing waters.”

As oceans absorb carbon dioxide, or CO2, seawater chemistry changes and the water becomes more acidic. According to scientists, the oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic due to CO2 emissions from cars, factories and other human sources. As a result, corals, crabs, plankton, urchins and other species lose their ability to build the protective armor they need to survive. The effects ripple throughout the food web as predator species lose the prey they depend on for survival.

In November 2010, the EPA determined that the impacts of ocean acidification must be evaluated under the Clean Water Act. It also recommended increased monitoring and assessment for ocean acidification. This action came in response to a settlement of a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity brought against the agency for omitting waters impaired by ocean acidification from Washington state’s list of polluted waters.

In 2007, the Center petitioned to have California’s ocean waters included on the list of impaired waters due to threats from ocean acidification. California’s waters are among the most vulnerable because of upwelling currents off the coast. A research cruise off the Pacific Coast recently found that during certain seasons corrosive waters that are affected by ocean acidification come up onto the continental shelf and reach the shallow waters where most marine life is concentrated. These corrosive waters were found closest to shore off the Northern California coast.

“The EPA’s decision not to address the acidification of California’s ocean waters is a terrible disappointment and an injustice to species that require clean, unpolluted water to survive,” said Sakashita. “Delaying action on this ocean crisis only increases the odds that entire ocean ecosystems may be irreversibly lost.”

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