Ocean Acidification, A Harsh Reality

Photography, Science

“The havoc wreaked by ocean acidification is unfolding faster and more severely than anyone thought it would. Coral reefs are collapsing, and food chains may break apart as our oceans go through a dangerous transformation. If we’re going to stop this crisis from getting far worse, we’ll need national leadership at the top levels of our government.”

— Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director for the Center for Biological Diversity

PHOTO 168

Let’s revisit a little topic called: Ocean Acidification 

To simply put it, the worlds oceans are getting more acidic by the minute. Why should you care? Because it’s changing the chemical balance of the seas, creating detrimental effects on certain animals and ecosystems. The oceans are absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide – resulting from the vast amounts of fossil fuels we burn every single day – 30-40% of it goes into our oceans making the water pH more and more corrosive. Bet you didn’t know that coral reefs are being lost more than twice as fast as the rain-forests. Yes, it is a big deal.

Many organisms in the ocean – corals, snails, oysters, clams, ect. – have shells or exoskeletons made up of calcium carbonate. In terms of comparing this horrible reality underwater with us humans above water, let’s relate it to a common disease – Osteoporosis. This particular disease weakens bone mineral density, allowing your bones to become weak and fracture easily. With the acidity of ocean water increasing, the dissolution of calcareous material increases – resulting in decreased calcium carbonate shell thickness and overall strength for many animals. Coral reefs are dying, shells of oysters/clams are dissolving, and most importantly the larvae of these ocean animals can’t form a strong shell due the high acidity in sea water and die before they even have a chance to survive.

Here’s a list of proven facts pertaining to ocean acidification:

  • Produces more red tides (algal blooms) – which are toxic to fish and other various marine life
  • Reef-dwelling fish suffer from brain damage – resulting in a higher  chance of being eaten
  • By the year 2030 – and anticipated earlier – California’s waters are expected to be highly corrosive to shellfish
  • The ocean absorbs 22 million tons (roughly 1/3rd of the total emitted) of CO2 EVERYDAY 
  • Scientists predict coral reefs will be extinct by the end of the century
  • Pacific waters will increase 10x in acidity by the year 2050
  • There are approximately 10,000 coral reefs and we are destroying one every other day

A recent study on Pteropods (also known as sea butterflies– key plankton species in the Southern Ocean) explains how alarming and present ocean acidification truly is. Researchers in Antarctica collected sea butterflies in 9 different locations. In the first 8 locations, the specimens looked like the lefthand image below. But on the 9th location, the specimens they collected looked like the righthand image. “Severe dissolution” of the sea butterflies’ shells was determined in the 9th location. The acidity in the 9th location was highly increased due to upswelling, where cold water naturally rises from the depths of the ocean pushed up to the surface by heavy winds. Upswelling is supposed to occur more often as climate change intensifies. Basically it’s safe to say that this occurrence is only going to get more frequent in our seas, resulting in detrimental effects on animals and marine ecosystems as a whole.

Credit: Nina Bednaršek and Bertrand Lézé

Credit: Nina Bednaršek and Bertrand Lézé

Still not convinced that this really effects you? Then check out this video about the ocean acidification effects on the American Northwest shellfish industry. It’s quite eye-opening…

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7 thoughts on “Ocean Acidification, A Harsh Reality

  1. Always a horribly depressing topic 😦 My hope is that now that ocean acidification is more established in research and people are accepting it as real, there will be more pressure on policy-makers to lower CO2 emissions and come up with alternative solutions.
    There are also some small beacons of hope in this giant mess, like the fact that aragonite-based corals don’t seem to be affected by acidification, and that coralline algaes (which are often making up the base of coral reefs, like the glue between bricks) aren’t affected either! Tiny consolations, but it’s something :/

    1. I know Erin, it truly is. I read conflicting research papers about coralline algae and the effects of ocean acidification when researching for this post, and it was mostly positive results thank goodness (as you stated). It’s up to us to help save the planet girlfriend! I believe in us 🙂

  2. This is really very dramatic and important… I was shocked recently when I first learned about this kind of phenomena, specially seeing some places in the great coral barrier in Australia already compleely lifeless… =/

    1. Hi Axel, yes this is such a sad but true reality. I wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef before I died, and I accomplished that in 2009. There may not be a Reef when I have kids though, which is a scary thought! The largest living organism on Earth should get more respect and notice for the damage we are partly responsible for inflicting upon it.

      1. and I’m so busy trying to solve my life; at the same time feeling sort of guilty or something like it, thinking we all should be doing something else… there are more important things going on and the structure of our lifes are just focusing on the wrong priorities…

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