The Threat Of Ocean Acidification
Many mainstream media outlets have voiced their concerns about climate change, ocean acidification, however, seems to be ignored most of the time. I mean, when was the last time you recalled the words “ocean acidification” being mentioned in a mainstream media outlet? I myself found out about this topic during one of my TEDTalk on marine biology spirals. I stumbled upon the recording of renowned PhD chemical oceanographer Tirona McGrath from the National University of Ireland on “How pollution is changing the ocean’s chemistry”. In her talk, she addresses the threat of ocean acidification, in her words the “evil twin of climate change”. Now, I have always had an affinity for all things marine related, that term, however, was foreign to my tongue. Yes, it had been chucked into conversations here and there but I didn’t really know the threat it really posed to our oceans. To me, the biggest threat for our marine life was the coral bleaching caused by climate change, which is for example killing earth’s grandest ecosystem – the Great Barrier Reef.
So what possibly could threaten the oceans more than the overheating and consequent death of millions of corals and the animals depending on them?
As you probably have already guessed, the answer is ocean acidification. In order for you to not have the same lack of knowledge, allow me to explain. If you are interested in McGrath’s whole video with an in-depth explanation, you can watch it here – otherwise I’ll briefly summarize her problematization below the video:
Essentially, the ocean absorbs 25% of the carbon dioxide emissions in our atmosphere and the more we produce, the higher is the dissolved carbon dioxide in our ocean. The higher the carbon dioxide concentration, the more the seawater pH decreases; meaning there has been an increase in ocean acidification. Since pre-industrial times, ocean acidification increased 32% and is expected to increase over 150% by 2100. This acidification rate is 10 times faster than any acidity increase for over 55 million years.
Whereas it can be beneficial, since ocean acidification has an higher amount of carbon, which is required for photosynthesis and thereby a resource for primary production, this chemical process brings many potential problems with it.
One of the main concerns is the decrease of carbonate ions, the “building blocks for many marine species to make their shells”. Furthermore, coral reefs, the support system for a quarter of all marine life, depend on them to prevent literal dissolving.
According to marine biologist Dr. Sue-Anne Watson, the change in acidity is also leading to a change in behaviour within marine species. Rising carbon dioxide levels has resulted in the loss of sensory abilities in fish such as smell, vision and hearing. Whereas some shark species are able to regulate their bloody chemistry on their own, many suffer the consequences of ocean acidification. The smooth dog fish sharks "avoid food odours and show reduced attack behaviour, while swimming patterns in small-spotted cat sharks change". And those are just the effects on one animal out of the million affected. For the full article, click here.
So, what can you do to help?
For my visual thinkers, here is the second part of infographic seen as the title image from the save our seas foundation. Check out there full article on the issue here.
Seeing as this is caused by large carbon dioxide emissions, much like the many other environmental issue such as damaged tropical coral reefs, melting Arctic ice, thawing tundra among others, the simple answer is:
Reduce your carbon footprint.
If you are wondering how large your personal emissions are, use this link to the WWF’s UK footprint calculator with specific tips how you can reduce your carbon footprint! It will take less than five minutes and can truly put things in perspective! Of course there are other steps our society as a whole can take as shown in the infographic but if you personally want to take action, aim to produce as little carbon dioxide as possible.