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Cuomo signs law setting up task force on ocean acidification

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put pressure on the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put pressure on the Legislature during a press event upstate saying that if legislators hold a special session to reauthorize a pay raise commission that would lead to higher pay in January, they will also be confronted with several measures that he wants done. Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Monday night signed a bill creating a state task force to study ocean acidification and how to protect coastal resources.

The bill establishes a 14-person task force within the state Department of Environmental Conservation to use science-based data to identify causes and ways to address ocean acidification.

“It’s a bill that I believe is proactive because we need to see how the acidification is affecting our oceans and marine life specifically,” said Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), a sponsor of the bill.

Ocean acidification happens when increased levels of carbon dioxide combine with seawater, causing a chemical reaction that raises the acidity of the water.

Dead zones — where oxygen levels are lowered — exacerbate ocean acidification and in the summer can stretch from the East River out past waters in Stony Brook in Long Island Sound, said Dianna K. Padilla, a professor with Stony Brook University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution, who also is affiliated with Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“I think it’s really important that New York State has taken this step because we have an enormous amount of coastline,” Padilla said. “We have a lot of biological reserves and our coastal resources are a very important value . . . Understanding what is happening in our coastal areas is absolutely critical.”

By Dec. 31, 2018, the task force is required to file a report assessing impacts and recommendations for adaptation measures, policy options and regulatory changes needed to address ocean acidification. The task force authority ends Jan. 1, 2019.

Stuart F. Gruskin, chief conservation and external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy in New York, said in a news release the law “will address a serious yet invisible threat to our economy, our food security and our fishing and tourism industries. New York, including our shellfishing industry, is especially vulnerable, due to waters already contaminated with high levels of nitrogen from wastewater.”

Ocean acidification is thought to harm corals, mollusks and other crustaceans but the effects along the East Coast, where temperatures and acidity levels fluctuate widely, is unknown.

“We’re at the very early stages of studying this,” Padilla said. “Every species that has been studied so far is not affected the same. . . . This is an enormous challenge that we face that is not going away. ”

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