MAJOR FINDINGS

The Panel’s scientific experts reached consensus on six Major Findings

1. OAH will have severe environmental, ecological and economic consequences for the West Coast, and requires a concerted regional management focus.

OAH is a problem that is expected to grow in intensity with far greater impacts to come, particularly along the West Coast, where regional ocean circulation patterns dramatically heighten the potentially devastating effects of OAH. Local governments alone do not have the capability to halt fundamental, widespread changes to the chemistry of coastal waters. Decision-makers need a common core of scientific information that will enable them to use limited resources in a strategic, coordinated, regional fashion to best serve the ecological and socioeconomic needs of the entire West Coast region. Appendix B provides more detail about the trajectory of OAH-triggered change, and why the West Coast is more vulnerable than other coastal regions.

2. Global carbon emissions are the dominant cause of OA.

Although "Key Findings, Recommendations, and Actions" is focused on how the West Coast is impacted by OA and the associated intensification of hypoxia, OA is a global problem that will require global solutions. Given that the dominant cause of OA is global carbon dioxide emissions, the Panel stands firmly behind multinational efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions worldwide; humankind’s ability to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the world’s oceans will be the single most important, effective strategy for mitigating OA. To that end, the Panel encourages West Coast leadership to develop a regional carbon management strategy, expanding on initiatives such as California’s AB 32 and Washington’s Climate Action Team.

3. There are actions we can take to lessen exposure to OA.

Although local actions cannot wholly undo the global impacts of OA, West Coast managers can take action to improve local conditions by managing local factors that contribute to declining water quality. In particular, opportunities exist to implement better controls on nutrients and organic matter pollution that flow from land into coastal waters, as these chemicals provide nourishment for algae and bacteria that, in turn, can trigger hypoxia and exacerbate acidification. In selecting specific areas in which to implement these controls, managers should work closely with scientists, as these actions are typically costly and will not be equally effective everywhere; monitoring and modeling results can be used to inform best options.

4. We can enhance the ability of ecosystems and organisms to cope with OA.

West Coast managers are not limited to mitigating OA; they also can take actions to reduce the negative biological and ecological impacts from OA. Fostering ecosystem resilience – that is, taking management actions intended to support an ecosystem’s ability to withstand the impacts of OA – offers a near-term strategy for maintaining functional ecosystems along the West Coast as the environment changes. Managing for resilience can be achieved by expanding and adjusting approaches already in place along the West Coast, including the use of protected areas, ecosystem approaches to fisheries management, and integrated coastal management techniques. The concept of enhancing resilience is more thoroughly explored in Appendix C.

5. Accelerating OA science will expand the management options available.

The state of knowledge about OA and its interaction with hypoxia is rapidly evolving, but is still limited and thus able to inform only a limited suite of management options to date. West Coast managers should be looking for opportunities to foster rigorous, managerially relevant research, develop coordinated cost-effective monitoring programs that continue to provide information about the projected trajectories of OAH, and integrate knowledge from multiple domains into decision-making. As scientific understanding of OAH grows, so will the options available for devising effective, fiscally prudent management strategies.

6. Inaction now will reduce options and impose higher costs later.

It is becoming increasingly clear that OA will cause significant ecosystem changes, with widespread negative consequences that diminish valuable ecosystem benefits and services. Over time, OA conditions will intensify, diminishing opportunities for managers and West Coast communities to adapt to the changing marine environment. Delaying action now could render future management interventions far less effective (detailed further in Appendix D). Actions taken now based on best available science offer the possibility of forestalling at least some of the negative consequences for ecosystems and society.