The Perils of Ocean Acidification

Effect of Ocean Acidification on ShellOcean acidification is one of the under explored consequences of global climate change on the worlds oceans.  Ocean acidification is a process that occurs as a result of chemical reactions between carbon dioxide in the air and carbonate ions in seawater.  These reactions cause the lowering of seawater pH.  This acidification causes an ensuing reduction in calcium carbonate concentration.  The increase in acidity has a very detrimental effect on entire classes of ocean creatures, specifically calcifying or shell species.  This includes clams, arthropods, plankton, and coral.  High acidity causes the shells of these species to slowly disintegrate, as in the photo, eventually killing the organism.  

The effect on coral is the most tragic because of the critical role that coral reefs have in the ocean ecosystem.   Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.  They have been referred to by many scientists as the, “rainforests of the ocean”.  Reef animals are also very important food source for many human communities.  Coral is particularly threatened, because it has higher calcium carbonate requirements than other shell producing species.  This results in a much faster rate of ocean acidification damage in coral reefs.  Some scientists project that the complete extinction of coral reefs may occur in the next 100 years, with a terminal decline occurring in 2050.  

However, there is hope in combating this destructive phenomena.  The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends the creation of international marine protected areas.  These areas would be critical to the survival of biodiversity in an acidic ocean.  International treaties could go a long way towards banning overfishing in sensitive ocean ecosystems.  Ultimately, the end of ocean acidification will occur from dramatic reductions in atmospheric CO2.  You may take part on an individual level, by decreasing your amount of driving, making your home more energy efficient, and eating locally.  However, the real change will occur by getting active.  Joining the NRDC or signing a petition will help their efforts in bringing public awareness to the issue of ocean acidification.  The NRDC has also created a very informative documentary called, “Acid Test the Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification”.  Sharing this documentary is a great way to share the basics of this problem with your friends and colleagues.  Another way to get involved, is to become an active volunteer in the organization 350.org.  350.org is an organization that working to to help bring an end to government policies that encourage climate change.  It is really up to each of us to become part of the solution to save ocean life from certain destruction.

Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/usoceangov/4147577833/

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