Ocean Nexus Report Launch: Equity & Marine Plastic Report 2022

Salish Sea providing a ‘window’ into the future of ocean acidification

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is currently studying whether crabs could be impacted by ocean acidification, a process some scientists say Puget Sound is particularly susceptible to. Alex Gagnon, a researcher with the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, discusses the science behind greenhouse gasses, ocean acidification and the important crab industry in Washington state. (KING 5)

UN Ocean Decade endorses Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center’s ‘Ocean Voices’ as an official ‘Decade of Action’ program

New model developed to predict impact of climate-driven changes to the California Current System

Ocean Nexus Center: To achieve equitable and sustainable oceans, policymakers must focus on social equity and governance before resources

VIDEO: WOAC and partners profiled in AGU Thought Leadership Series

View the video on the new WOAC website!

This year, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center was selected to be included in the AGU Thought Leadership Series, which profiles the work and research of urgent environmental issues. WOAC was selected due to the desire to spotlight centers that are “working against the clock” to alleviate ocean acidification.

TIDE BITES: Enhancing Resilience: a Constant Challenge in a Changing Climate

Ocean Nexus Center Postdoctoral Fellow Kirk Sato wrote this opinion piece for Tide Bites at the Friday Harbor Labs. It was reprinted in the San Juan Islander.

The ocean speaks a language that is understood globally. It has been the mother tongue for generations of people who base their life’s work on its many offerings. We are privileged to work so intimately with such a powerful life source, and we also carry a great deal of responsibility as we participate in this conversation. The resources provided by the FHL Ocean Observatory allow us to translate saltwater properties into numbers, particle motions into 3D vectors and communities of microscopic organisms into high-resolution photos. These data show us how ecologically important microplankton like diatoms, dinoflagellates and ciliates interact with their saltwater environment on scales that have not been possible in FHL’s 100+ years of existence.

Fig. 1: I humbly acknowledge that the San Juan Islands archipelago is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples and I raise my hands to the original caretakers and their knowledge of this place. Photo of Goose Island (left) and Cattle Point Lighthouse was taken on July 5, 2011, aboard the R/V Centennial after a day of carbonate chemistry sampling. Credit: FHL Ocean Acidification summer class of 2011.

Why? What is the purpose?

Reliable data are crucial to enhancing resilience against climate change Carbon dioxide from human activities is causing the ocean to warm and become more acidic. Environmental monitoring can help us create tailored solutions to meet specific climate change challenges. Without monitoring, we cannot determine the effectiveness of climate change mitigation actions or assess how well we are adapting.

To our knowledge, the FHL Ocean Observatory serves as the only multi-sensor array in the San Juan Islands archipelago that monitors temperature, salinity, pH, carbon dioxide, oxygen, chlorophyll-a fluorescence, turbidity, and current velocity. Time-series data sets like this describe local conditions precisely and accurately, thus providing valuable real-world context for laboratory experiments and validation of ocean forecast models.

Saltwater conditions in the Salish Sea affect fish populations (for recreational, tribal, and commercial fishers as well as iconic wildlife such as the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales), Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), shellfisheries, and the health of key foundation species such as eelgrass, oysters and clams. There is increasing evidence, for example, that prevalence of eelgrass wasting disease is affected both by local seawater temperatures and freshwater input. Ongoing environmental monitoring programs are crucial to help us better understand and prepare for these emerging climate-linked issues. An unprecedented glimpse into the base of the food web

In addition to the suite of ocean properties listed above, we also monitor the microplanktonic community using a state-of-the-art camera system called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB). The IFCB is an automated imaging flow cytometer that is designed for the continuous monitoring of phytoplankton and microzooplankton. Using a laser-triggered high resolution camera, the IFCB generates images and optical data of individual plankton and other particles in the size range of >10-150 µm (the width of a human hair).

We collaborate closely with Professor Evelyn Lessard (UW Oceanography), who is using deep learning techniques to automatically ID and count microplankton, in order to convert thousands of photos into user-friendly data in near real-time. This capacity would allow for the continuous monitoring of HAB species and would enable the development of an early alert system for Tribal, State and commercial resource managers. Also, having both ocean chemistry and detailed snapshots of the microplankton community (Figure 2) provides an unprecedented high-resolution data set that will enable researchers to investigate the impacts of ocean change (e.g. Ocean Acidification, hypoxia, warming) and evaluate predictive ecological models.


Fig. 2: The co-location of both ocean chemistry and detailed snapshots of microplankton communities enables researchers to investigate the impacts of ocean change (OA, hypoxia and warming). For example, IFCB images collected during periods of relatively warm and high pH (top left) differ from those captured during colder and more acidic conditions (top right). Arrows point to corresponding pH (green squares) and temperature (orange triangles) conditions in September 2020. The IFCB takes ~1,000-2,000 photos per 5 mL every 20 minutes, or ~100,000 images per day!


Who cares?

Research community at FHL and beyond High-resolution, long-term monitoring data are incredibly valuable to many other ongoing ecological research projects at FHL. We strive to make our data broadly accessible. I make it possible to monitor the data streams, curate them regularly, prepare them for internal peer-review and archive them online. We are working with scientists at the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) to make the chemical data streams available to the public in near real-time. You can access the most recent curated FHL Ocean Observatory data sets through our project’s metadata webpage (Sato et al. 2020). Students viewing IFCB Serving the next generation Hands-on research experiences cannot be undervalued, especially while COVID-19 restrictions limit our abilities to collaborate (Figure 3).

In March 2020, we were awarded a 2-year Partners in Science grant by the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust to work with Mr. Samuel Garson, a science teacher at Friday Harbor High School. Even at the height of the pandemic when most Partners in Science projects were canceled, we developed a long-lasting partnership program that will provide FHHS students with more opportunities to learn at FHL. We believe the multifaceted Ocean Observatory is an ideal project to support local students of Friday Harbor in STEM pathways, thus supporting the passion that so many of them have for their island home and the Salish Sea.

Fig. 3: Students in the FHL Autumn 2020 Marine Biology class open the weather-proof box to reveal the Imaging FlowCytoBot. Protecting the FHL Ocean Observatory’s electrical equipment from the elements is like protecting yourself and others from COVID-19; regular check-ups and occasional upgrades are necessary for a long-term healthy system. Credit: K. Kull.


Listening to the ocean On its surface, FHL’s Ocean Observatory is a collection of sensors, hardware and cameras, but beneath the data there are many stories to be told about complex ocean dynamics. In order to continue producing high-quality data sets and share these lessons, we need long-term dedicated funding. Our immediate needs include routine sensor part replacements, recalibrations by the manufacturers, and regular independent water sample analyses to monitor instrumental drift. Despite this challenge, we are looking forward to coordinating with other monitoring programs at FHL such as the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO), which is focused on conducting long-term biodiversity surveys in eelgrass and kelp bed habitats. Through diverse perspectives such as those found across the FHL and UW community, I believe we can help maximize the resiliency of the ocean and envision more equitable and just ocean governance systems.


Sato K.N., Carrington E., Gagnon A., Lessard E.J., Newton J., Swalla B., and K. Sebens. 2020. Seawater data (2018-2020) recorded from the Friday Harbor Laboratories Ocean Observatory (FHLOO). Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). (Version 1) Version Date 2020-10-16. http://lod.bco-dmo.org/id/dataset/826798

Kirk Sato is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the newly formed Ocean Nexus Center at UW’s EarthLab. Kirk’s background in oceanography and ecology is contributing to Ocean Nexus Center efforts to transform ocean governances into new systems that benefit everyone equally. This summer, he has worked to help Japanese oyster farmers build their capacity to adapt to environmental change like Ocean Acidification. He continues to serve the FHL community as the lead project manager of the FHL Ocean Observatory, which received initial NSF funding in 2015 and has been supported by the College of the Environment over the past year.

The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel – Tribal Communities at the Forefront of Ocean Change

Indigenous people have depended on Olympic Coast marine species for their livelihoods, food security and cultural practices for thousands of years. Today, these species—and the tribal communities that depend on them—are at risk from ocean acidification. Washington Sea Grant, in partnership with the Olympic Coast Treaty Tribes, federal and academic scientists and coastal managers, is working to understand and plan for the impacts of ocean change to tribal community well-being.

This collaborative investigation and project video were funded by the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (Project #NA17OAR0170166), and is led by Dr. Jan Newton, UW Applied Physics Lab, and Dr. Melissa Poe, Washington Sea Grant. Dr. Newton is also the co-director of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, a statewide organization that connects researchers, policymakers, industry and others across Washington to advance the science of ocean acidification and provide a foundation for proactive strategies and policies to protect marine ecosystems and the people connected to them.

This beautiful 18-minute film about the Olympic Coast research partnership uses collaborators’ own voices and perspectives on ocean change and tribal resilience to bring the story to life.

This video and article was originally published by Washington Sea Grant.

Justice and sustainability: Geographer focusing on fair ocean governance in international project

From our economy to our culture and health, our interactions with the ocean are a part of our daily lives in Newfoundland and Labrador.



It is only fitting, then, that Memorial University is one of the research universities that is part of the Ocean Nexus Center.

Based at the University of Washington EarthLab and in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation, Ocean Nexus is an international network of interdisciplinary researchers with a focus on justice and sustainability.

“I’m leading some of the Nexus work primarily thinking about the oceans as they relate to our planning for sustainable development and achievement of sustainable development goals,” said Dr. Gerald Singh, who began as faculty in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, in August 2019. Dr. Singh is deputy director of research and represents Memorial in Ocean Nexus, a 10-year, (USD)$32.5-million project.

“Memorial will kind of be the hub for a lot of the international work on that,” he said.

Ocean Nexus

Ocean Nexus focuses on five major themes: ocean and human health; ocean economy and livelihood; ocean people and society; fair ocean governance; and ocean climate and extreme events.

Dr. Singh’s work with PhD students and post-doctoral researchers at Memorial will focus on ocean governance in Canada. The interdisciplinary scope includes fisheries management related to climate change and potential environmental impact of offshore oil and gas development.

Interdisciplinary work is valuable, says Dr. Singh, who is also a former fellow of the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

“I do a lot of work on risk and human impacts on the ocean, and what that means for the benefits people derive from ocean ecosystems and marine systems,” he said. “I also increasingly do a lot of work at the intersection of fisheries and planning for sustainable development.”


Dr. Singh moved to St. John’s and Memorial from Vancouver to join the Ocean Frontier Institute, a research network of Atlantic Canadian universities. That was an exciting opportunity, he says. But meeting his colleagues in the Department of Geography and across the university also influenced his decision.

“It was one of the most collegial working environments I’ve ever experienced.”

Environmental changes in our oceans have widespread effects across all sectors of society, he says. Studying those effects reveals solutions that don’t further marginalize those at risk when oceans change. Dr. Singh’s role with Ocean Nexus helps place Memorial at the forefront of those important discussions.

“There’s a lot of good work done out here on emerging coastal development and ways to use different sustainable development planning tools,” Dr. Singh.

“We’ll definitely be able to use some of that existing expertise.”

This article was originally published in the Memorial Gazette.

A “Green New Deal” for the oceans must prioritize social justice beyond infrastructure

A trio of researchers from the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at UW EarthLab– Andrés M. Cisneros‐Montemayor, Katherine M. Crosman, and Yoshitaka Ota–  published a commentary in Conservation Letters calling for equity and justice measures to be prioritized in ocean sustainability, as called for in the Green New Deal (GND) proposal to the U.S. Congress.

A green new deal for the oceans must prioritize social justice beyond infrastructure” adds to a recently published peer-reviewed article which declares that oceans are largely absent or separate from the policy proposals listed in the GND. The timely paper published by Dundas et al. (2020) argues the importance of extending the values and proposed strategies of the GND to the oceans, including investing in infrastructure, renewable energy, food security, and habitat restoration.

Cisneros‐Montemayor et al. (2020) agree that “future sustainable and equitable development of oceans relies on acknowledging climate change, anticipating future challenges, and proactively transforming the U.S. economy.” However, while the Green New Deal does call on the federal government to make these specific investments to mitigate climate change, at the heart of the proposal is the social justice movement to combat the economic inequality and racial injustice that typically afflict environmental policies. It was this part of the puzzle that was missing from the original argument made by Dundas et al.

“There’s a lot of evidence  that shows that many coastal communities, including artisanal fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples, historically and currently experience inequities even when policies are intended to bring positive change,” said Cisneros‐Montemayor, Ocean Nexus Deputy Director. “This is often due to the fact that their needs are not specifically considered as part of the equation. If we are serious about supporting well-being and sustainability, we have to recognize these complex political dynamics and focus more on protecting the people who depend on the oceans.”

Protecting the people who rely on oceans is the driving force behind the Ocean Nexus Center. A large part of their work is dedicated to revealing the inequities in the system and then co-creating transformation that directly benefits those impacted by unjust ocean management and development.

“We agree that oceans are a critical part of a Green New Deal. Communities and industries both in the U.S. and around the world rely directly on healthy oceans and oceans are critical components of climate systems,” said Kate Crosman, Ocean Nexus Principal Research Scientist. “However, to be consistent with the spirit of the Green New Deal, we must acknowledge and address the existing and future inequities that are associated with marine and coastal development and management. Simply, ocean governance must fundamentally change to center equity and justice.”

Read the full correspondence paper here.

Learn more about the new Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at UW EarthLab here.