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A collaborative framework for joint DFO/NOAA ocean acidification research and monitoring

Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background and context

Global marine ecosystems are undergoing significant changes related to a combination of climate change, ocean acidification, natural variability, and other human pressures.

The rising level of atmospheric CO2 is causing both climate change and ocean acidification. Climate change is impacting marine resources, ecosystems, and infrastructure in several different ways. Higher ocean temperatures reduce dissolved oxygen and also affect fisheries distribution, health, and timing in life cycles, such as when lobsters molt. Rising sea levels and associated storm surges damage shorelines and coastal infrastructure and harm coastal ecosystems. Ocean acidification (OA) reduces seawater pH and the availability of calcium carbonate, making it difficult for many shellfish species to grow shells and for young finfish to counter internal shifts in acid-base balances, which may lead to a cascade of biological effects, including mortality.

Bilateral cooperation between the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environment Canada (now Environment and Climate Change Canada) is recognized under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in January 2008. Within this MOU, mutual interests in collaborating on ocean research and exchanging scientific and technical knowledge are outlined. The MOU also notes the need to coordinate with other engaged partners in each country, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

On June 29th, 2016 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, American President Barack Obama, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met in Ottawa for the North American Leaders Summit. At this meeting the three leaders committed to advance a competitive, low-carbon and sustainable North American economy and society, and to provide global leadership in addressing climate change. They also committed to enhance cooperation on ocean management and complementary research on oceans and climate change, including the impacts of climate change on oceans and marine ecosystems.

In support of these international commitments, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a joint Ocean Acidification Meeting in St. Andrews New Brunswick, on September 20th and 21st, 2016. At this meeting, scientists and fisheries managers met to discuss the impacts of OA on species of common concern, to share research methodologies for OA monitoring and mitigation, and to identify opportunities for collaborative monitoring and field surveys. The main objectives of the meeting were:

  1. To share updates on research into biological impacts of OA, especially on commercial species of shared interest;
  2. To identify common knowledge gaps and areas for future research collaborations;
  3. To establish a coordination mechanism for current and future ocean or coastal OA observing in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans; and
  4. To develop a Coordination Framework for DFO-NOAA efforts into the future.

1.2 DFO mission as related to ocean acidification

DFO is monitoring and studying the effects that changing ocean conditions, including increasing water temperatures and OA, are having on Canada’s fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, and coastlines. Federal agencies have been tracking changing ocean conditions for well over 100 years and DFO has been conducting research and collaborating internationally on OA in all three of Canada’s oceans for over a decade. DFO scientists are involved in various regional and international studies to more accurately describe the frequency and extent of acidification events, identify areas that are the most vulnerable to acidification and better understand the potential impacts on marine organisms. At an international level, DFO is involved in the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which leads many circumpolar environmental monitoring activities of the Arctic Council, and in the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON).

Through Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP), scientists are monitoring and studying changing ocean conditions and their effects on Canada’s fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, and coastlines. The Science sector at DFO conducted risk-based assessments of climate change impacts on the biological systems in four Large Aquatic Basins (Canada’s Central Freshwater Ecosystems, Northeast Pacific, Canadian Arctic, and Northwest Atlantic). Results of these assessments concluded that: DFO’s coastal infrastructure, ecosystems, and species are at significant risk based on a 50-year timeframe; emergency response and the change in access and navigability of waterways risks are the highest in the Arctic; and OA is a major risk to fisheries and ecosystem health in all three oceans.

The current ACCASP focuses on building foundational knowledge of OA, as well as furthering the development of climate change vulnerability indices for coastal infrastructure and fisheries. This includes the incorporation of climate change impacts within stock assessments, improving forecasting of ocean conditions and communicating the results to other levels of government (e.g. provinces, territories, cities), marine based industries, and Canadians at large.

DFO will continue priority science activities on ocean chemistry, including hypoxia and OA. This includes research to better understand the biological impacts of OA and responses of key fisheries, aquaculture and keystone ecological species in coastal and offshore waters, and how ocean circulation affects the occurrence and rate of acidification in all three oceans.

In March 2016, Canadian First Ministers endorsed the Vancouver Declaration that committed to the development of a Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) that will inform the future Pan-Canadian Strategy for Adaptation and Climate Resilience. The PCF was officially adopted and publically announced following the First Ministers’ Meeting on December 9th, 2016.

As the federal government moves toward implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework, DFO will continue to work collaboratively with other federal departments, and with provinces where appropriate, to advance Canada’s climate change agenda as well as DFO’s mandate commitments, including using scientific evidence and the precautionary principles, and take into account climate change, when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management.

1.3 NOAA mission as related to ocean acidification

In 2009, the United States Congress passed the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM) that allowed for the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) in May 2011. The OAP aims to coordinate research, monitoring, and other activities to improve understanding of the mechanism by and rates at which the chemistry of the ocean is changing, the regional variability of that change, and the impacts of these changes on marine life, people, and the local, regional, and national economies. FOARAM also set up a US Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification (OA-IWG) which currently includes representatives from 13 federal agencies and is charged with broad coordination of OA research and monitoring across the relevant agencies. The OAP Director is also chair of the IWG.

The OAP is a long-term, statutorily mandated program that is a part of the Research division of NOAA. Program funding falls within seven different focal areas or themes:

  1. Monitoring;
  2. Biological and ecosystem response;
  3. Data management;
  4. Modelling;
  5. Adaptation strategies;
  6. Technological development; and
  7. Outreach and education.

As part of its responsibilities, the OAP provides grants and works in close partnership with academic institutions to advance critical research projects that explore the effects on marine organisms, ecosystems and socioeconomic impacts leading to potential adaptive strategies. The OAP also pursues a leadership role in advancing international OA monitoring and monitoring best practices.

NOAA is working to establish long-term high quality OA observations within ocean, coastal, and coral reef environments using a network of targeted and volunteer ship surveys, fixed mooring observations, and advanced technologies. This information is guiding experiments conducted on commercially and ecologically significant organisms to better advance eco-forecasting and socioeconomic modelling efforts. NOAA also continues to incorporate OA data and information into state-of-the-art Earth System Models and Regional Ocean Models for use by scientific and resource management communities. Improving understanding of how OA occurs regionally and teasing out the broad range of vulnerabilities will aid in developing local management and adaptation practices.

1.4 Coordination framework

There are currently very few coordinated research and monitoring efforts between the two agencies despite the many shared coastal resources. This Coordination Framework provides a concrete way forward and recommendations to facilitate better coordination. It identifies key areas where the two agencies can work together and may prove beneficial in expanding and refining the broad ranges of research, monitoring, and modelling efforts relevant to improving understanding of OA within Canada and the United States.

During the initial September 2016 meeting, obstacles to DFO-NOAA collaborations and potential ways to overcome them were discussed. The NOAA OAP receives funding directly from the US Congress as a permanent program, whereas DFO OA funding is currently on a 2-5 year cycle with the potential for ongoing funding in the future. As the funding cycles are not coordinated between the United States and Canada, long-term collaborative projects are difficult to manage. Collaboration is made more difficult by limited communications on the specifics of research or monitoring studies, and uncertainty surrounding the points-of-contact for the projects. In most cases, academic partners have more flexibility so, historically, collaboration between NOAA and DFO may have been limited simply because other partners had greater flexibility for travel and collaborative work arrangements with less cumbersome permission processes.

Differences in federal or state/provincial management of a species can make it difficult to understand how best to collaborate and/or share management approaches. For example, lobster is managed at the state level in the US within three nautical miles from shore but at the federal level otherwise and entirely at the federal level in Canada. Therefore, coordinating lobster management is complicated. In respect to coordinating lobster research, DFO scientists need to communicate with researchers in NOAA, and at universities. Complexities of state-level organization, federal responsibility, university involvement, priorities, and management responsibilities might limit opportunities for transboundary cooperation without facilitated long-term relationships in place.

1.5 Value proposition

This Collaboration Framework will address proposed coordination efforts in monitoring; research, modelling, and experimentation; and, data and information sharing between DFO and NOAA. Coordination efforts will be supported by shared expertise, capacity, and methodology; technology development; and platforms, ships, moorings, and laboratories. Improving collaboration on these shared objectives will represent a more efficient use of resources which will benefit both countries through increased capacity and shared knowledge. Results will be used to enhance ocean reporting processes, inform fisheries management of the state and extent of ocean acidification, and further develop adaptation tools to inform decisions related to fisheries and oceans management.

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