Ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest has made life exceedingly difficult for mussel, oyster and scallop farmers -- sometimes killing off whole harvests and bankrupting aquaculture businesses. Maine officials worry the same could happen in their neck of the woods (or water).
"You can't see it, but you can measure it," said state senator Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, speaking of the problem of ocean acidification. "It's like the chemistry getting out of whack in your pool or your aquarium."
"The change in ocean chemistry is such a real issue," added Eric Horne, an oyster farmer from Freeport, Maine. "It's something we really need to band together for."
Joe Payne, a marine biologist and conservation advocate with the Friends of Casco Bay, is one of the members of the 16-person panel. Payne has been surveying the waters of Casco Bay -- an inlet of the Gulf of Maine on the state's southern coast -- and has discovered 50 mudflats with elevated acidity levels. Some of the shallows Payne has studied feature acidity levels high enough to dissolve baby clams.
Ocean acidification is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide being absorbed by seawater. The most obvious source of CO2 is manmade carbon emissions -- up to a third of which is absorbed by the ocean. These emissions are further exacerbated by smaller sources like nutrient-rich runoff -- fertilizers and other products being washed down sewer systems and rivers.
Last year, Aleck Wang, a chemical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, led a study that surmised the Gulf of Maine was one of the Atlantic regions most susceptible to ocean acidification.
The committee will discuss how acidification might affect Maine's fishing industry, and will consider strategies for curbing the threatening phenomenon. Committee members are expected to discuss solutions like: reducing carbon emissions, encouraging sea grasses that absorb CO2, and minimizing polluted runoff from farms, lawns and septic systems.