What are the potential impacts of ocean acidification on the life stages of commercially important species, on their associated ecosystems and socio-economics, and their capacity to resist and adapt?

The seas around the UK support rich and diverse fisheries that form an integral component of the ecosystem and are associated with economic and other societal benefits. Understanding factors that affect the well-being of marine ecosystems and fisheries, both finfish and shellfish, is key for our effective management of this resource.

Increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 is leading to an increased level of acidity in the oceans – ocean acidification. This could have serious long-term implications for marine ecosystems and the goods and services that they provide on a global and local (UK, European) basis. Fisheries are a particularly important service and we suspect that juvenile stages are most sensitive to changes in acidity, coupled (or otherwise) with changes in seawater temperature. As these stages are also those affected most by over fishing of mature animals, it is particularly important that we understand the potential additional stress that ocean acidification may place on these organisms and those that support them.

This project has two components. One is a combined experimental and mathematical modelling study of the impacts of increased seawater acidity and/or temperature on the survival and growth of juvenile stages of finfish and shellfish species, selected as representing UK interests in this arena. The second is a study of the socio economic implications of the impacts of these climate change-linked events on UK fisheries stocks and on non-commercial species that influence the function of marine ecosystems.

This consortium has four science objectives:

  • To examine the physiological and behavioural responses of commercial fish and shellfish to ocean acidification and their capacity to resist and adapt
  • To ‘scale up’ from laboratory studies to population and stock level responses to ocean acidification including an analysis of possible socio-economic consequences
  • To examine how changes in planktonic and benthic food-webs, as a result of ocean acidification, impact upon the production and yields of commercial fish and shellfish stocks
  • To investigate the possible socio-economic consequences relating to ocean acidification at an ecosystem level

 

This project will assist UK government (via Defra and DECC) in delivery of statutory obligations under national legislative drivers (e.g. UK Biodiversity Action Plan, UK Marine and Coastal Access Bill). The research will inform the assessment process for the UK Regional Seas via the UKMMAS Charting Progress III in 2015 and the OSPAR Assessment Framework. This project will support the design and implementation of measures needed to achieve Good Environmental Status in UK Regional Seas.


The major outputs from this project will be:

  • Development of our current low level of understanding of the potential impacts of acidification and warming on the survival and proliferation of marine fisheries in UK waters.
  • Data and mechanistic understanding of the biology and ecology of finfish and shellfish to aid the construction of models to enable a level of predictive capacity to be developed.
  • Development of a socio-economic model as a tool for predicting the wider implications for any changes in fisheries ecology as a consequence of acidification and warming.
  • An assessment of the changes in the value of the wider goods and services we obtain from the marine environment as a consequence of acidification and warming.

 

Project outputs will be used to meet the challenges facing society:

  • Predict how fisheries will change in response to increasing acidity and improve understanding of their allied ecosystem dynamics.
  • Understand the potential synergistic affects of acidity and warming on the growth of the food chain leading to fisheries, and on the juvenile fisheries species themselves.
  • Understand how the exploitation of fisheries further burdens the ecosystem subjected to climate change, and provide guidance on how we may have to alter fisheries management.
  • Understand how ocean acidification will affect the wider ecosystem and what these changes will mean for society and the management of marine ecosystems.
  • Support the development of adaptation and mitigation strategies through the provision of new scientific knowledge generated from interdisciplinary research.
  • Improve the exchange of knowledge between the science community and stakeholders.
  • Train experts for the future and develop the field of marine environmental economics.

 

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