Skip to content (press enter)


Monitoring Ocean Acidification in Oregon's Marine Reserves

Researchers and community groups are teaming up on a new project along our coast to help monitor pH for detecting and characterizing the progression of ocean acidification in Oregon's Marine Reserves. The collaboration, spearheaded by Oregon State University (OSU) and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), is teaming up with marine reserve community groups up and down the coast, including Surfrider's Newport Chapter, to not only fill geographic gaps in scientific monitoring, but to also engage citizens in making measurements in their local coastal ecosystems to better understand this complex issue.

The Surfrider Foundation's Newport Chapter recently joined the Redfish Rocks Community Team and the Nature Conservancy in adopting community monitoring sites within Oregon's Marine Reserves as part of this new academic research and community collaboration. Project lead Francis Chan of OSU, who also chairs the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel (, is building off of previous academic research over the years through deployment of robust, low cost and high performance pH sensors which can be easily managed and maintained by citizens and volunteers.

ocean_acidification Charlie Plybon and Francis Chan install a monitoring unit at Otter Rock Marine Reserve

Oregon's Marine Reserves are an ideal place to monitor these changes in ocean conditions given the special management actions that make these areas suitable as research "controls". With heavily engaged community groups at the Redfish Rocks, Otter Rock and Cascade Head Marine Reserve, Chan is taking advantage of citizen scientists to help fill research gaps in these geographic areas. Through collaborating with community groups, Chan helps install the devices with volunteers and then asks partners to keep an eye on the device, removing and replacing the sensor and data log every 4-6 weeks. Data gets shipped off to Chan's lab where it's analyzed and catalogued.

oa_monitoring_unit A pH monitoring unit installed in the intertidal area of Redfish Rocks

Our next step in this partnership is seeking funding to develop out further interpretation, public awareness and understanding of the data. If successful, Surfrider hopes to develop "storyboard" maps associated with each of the marine reserve sites to help paint a picture of current and ongoing ocean conditions in Oregon's Marine Reserves. With peak attention by decision-makers in the state and regionally in directing science and policy changes to best address ocean acidification, Surfrider believes that this type of citizen engagement and public outreach has tremendous potential to effectively draw in new audiences and convey our emerging understanding of ocean changes.

ph_Rocky_point A month snapshot of data from the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve

The above graph gives an idea of daily fluctuations in pH, however long-term monitoring and "storyboard" interpretation will hopefully glean insight into ocean chemistry changes in some of our state's most iconic and treasured coastlines for citizens, scientists and decision-makers alike to understand.

Ocean Acidification (OA) represents one of the greatest challenges to the conservation and management of ocean ecosystems, but it's also a challenging issue to engage the everyday citizen in understanding individual relationships with the issue and how one can take action. And as no surprise, this challenge permeates all the way through our society to managers and decision-makers. For Surfrider Foundation, we've been working on water quality issues for decades and at the forefront of engaging our chapters, volunteers and members in understanding and well-grounded advocacy efforts has been citizen monitoring. Whether monitoring bacteria to better understand and advocate point and non-point source pollution issues through our BWTF or our efforts to track oil dispersants from spill events, direct citizen engagement in monitoring has been core to advancing our awareness and action on water quality issues. And our new challenge with Ocean Acidification we are addressing head-on, with community monitoring efforts that range from collecting data from your surfboard, to academic partnerships such as this project.

For Oregon, OA is a particularly pressing issue as our state’s waters are facing some of the earliest and most severe impacts of an acidifying ocean. Oregon and the West Coast States and British Columbia are taking pro-active changes in ocean acidification science and policy. Unfortunately, a myriad of barriers face our society in grasping an understanding and more importantly, individual connection and actions to address this complex issue. Need a primer? - drop in to Ridgetops to Rooftops to Reefs to learn a little more.