The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, introduced in the House in October, lays out an innovative plan to protect and enhance coastal and marine ecosystems facing climate impacts. In addition to centering the ocean and coasts in the fight against climate change, the bill also advances important measures to protect ocean health and to ensure that our fisheries can withstand climate change.
We know that our ocean and coastal resources are under threat. The 2018 National Climate Assessment documented the heavy toll that climate change poses on our ocean and coasts in the forms of warmer, more acidic waters, rising sea levels, and more intense storms. These climate effects are degrading and destroying important coastal and marine ecosystems—like eelgrass, barrier islands, salt marshes, and reefs—which provide vital breeding areas for fish and feeding areas for birds and other wildlife.
Ensuring climate resilience is more important than ever. Warming waters have caused fish species to move northward and deeper in the ocean, causing changes to the ocean food web. These changes have led to massive seabird die-offs along the Pacific Coast and are plummeting fish stocks with economic impacts on commercial fisheries. And the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, putting the recent restoration of Maine’s Atlantic Puffin population in jeopardy. Here are a few examples of how this bill will help mitigate the effects of climate change for marine life.
Protecting marine habitats
The bill sets a goal of protecting 30 percent of coastal and ocean habitats in the U.S. by 2030. Marine protected areas, depending on the extent of protections, generally limit or prohibit human disturbances, which include mining, drilling, fishing, and more—many of which directly threaten seabirds and other marine wildlife. Without disturbance, populations of marine animals are healthier and more robust. Safe spaces in the ocean with little to no threats not only allow the entire ecosystem to thrive, they also benefit our economy. As fish populations grow in number, they spill over to other areas of the ocean, creating more fish for anglers to harvest and for seabirds and other marine wildlife to eat.
Fortunately, there are a number of tools for protecting 30 percent of coastal and ocean habitats needed by forage fish and birds. Tools such as Essential Fish habitat have been effective in some areas and are designated by fisheries managers through the Magnuson-Stevens Act, used to protect huge swaths of sensitive habitats from the impacts of contact gear such as trawls. Essential Fish Habitat also allows fisheries managers to help protect areas from the harms related to mining, aquaculture, and energy development. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act must include input from fishing communities and states and ensure existing Essential Fish Habitat is included and considered in designations.
Promoting “climate-ready fisheries”
The bill provides resources to help fisheries managers and fishing communities prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change to fish stocks and to account for the unique role that forage fish play as a food source for seabirds and other wildlife. A recent study co-authored by the Audubon’s Seabird Institute shows that good fisheries management can help Atlantic Puffins survive the looming impacts of climate change.
Addressing other climate-related threats
The bill would also investment in research to address other climate related threats to our ocean. These threats include harmful algal blooms that poison wildlife and threaten public health, ocean acidification which can dissolve hard shells in oysters and corals, and black carbon emissions that accelerate warming and pose unique threats to Arctic communities and ecosystems.
Audubon supports this important legislation that will protect the marine and coastal habitats that both coastal communities and birds and other wildlife rely on to survive and thrive in the face of climate change. We applaud House leadership for advancing bold and effective solutions for addressing the climate crisis.