A group of Suquamish Tribe teenagers recently tackled a complicated issue that natural resources managers are just starting to consider – ocean acidification.

The five teens presented their findings on the issue and its impact to their tribe and Puget Sound before nearly 100 of their peers from all over the country in Washington, D.C. in mid-February.

It was a personal issue for the teens, because as tribal members, they rely on resources from the Sound, such as salmon, crab, oysters and geoducks. They also learned how emotional the tribal elders were about the issue.

“I knew there was a shortage in our seafood,” said Charissa Sigo, a senior. “I just didn’t know how bad it was. And we learned that other groups are dealing with similar climate issues all over the country.”

From left: Alie Hassett, Erica Cardiel, Charissa Sigo, Angeline Narte and Bearon Old Coyote present their work on ocean acidification at the 3rd National Summit on Oceans and Coasts in Washington, D.C.

The students were participating in the 3rd National Student Summit on Oceans and Coasts. The Suquamish teens were the only delegation from a tribe during this summit. The teens were encouraged to participate by Karen Matsumoto, the Seattle Aquarium’s marine science education coordinator. Matsumoto has been working with Bob Kirk’s natural resources science class at the Suquamish Early College/High School the past few years through the Aquarium’s Citizen Science program, along with Suquamish shellfish biologists Viviane Barry and Paul Williams.

Between November and January, Kirk’s students spent hours interviewing tribal elders, scientists and others, as well as reviewing existing research on Puget Sound water quality and climate change issues.

“We found out that a lot of people don’t know what ocean acidification is,” said Erica Cardiel, a senior.

Ocean acidification is caused when the sea water absorbs carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, lowering the pH of the ocean. This increases acidity slows shell formation.  As acidity rises, water becomes more corrosive eventually dissolving the shell and killing the most vulnerable stages – the larvae.

An action plan to better educate the Suquamish Tribe and surrounding communities about the effects of ocean acidification and improving water quality was the result of the teens’ work. A video on the research project can be viewed at go.nwifc.org/suquamishteens.

In addition to conducting community outreach, the students will present their work before a group of Washington state teachers at an educators conference this spring. The students also will continue working on marine life monitoring projects with tribal biologists and the Seattle Aquarium.