Oceana warns that CO2 emissions will cause extinction of coral and crustaceans due to higher water acidity

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Coral reefs constitute a source of income, food and coastal protection for more than 500 million people in the world


November 11, 2009
Madrid
Contact:
Marta Madina ( mmadina@oceana.org )




Oceana is calling for an urgent reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to stop acidification of oceans. Acidification jeopardizes the survival of coral reefs and numerous marine species, and with them, the sustenance for millions of people worldwide. The international marine preservation organization is asking governments to introduce the acidification problems in the COP15 debates. The COP15 is the UN Climate change Conference that will be held in Copenhagen between December 7th and 18th.

Oceans act like major drains for greenhouse gases. They reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and thus play a major role in attenuating climate change associated impacts. Nevertheless, this buffering effect has serious consequences for the oceans’ ecosystems and biodiversity.

“The oceans absorb greater quantities of CO2 than the tropical rain forests. In doing so, they slow down climate change, but they do it at the expense of jeopardizing the survival of millions of species”, explains Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe. “Therefore, we urgently need to reduce emissions from transportation, industry and power generation. We at Oceana are calling for a widespread change toward the use of renewable energies. We have set our sights on marine wind generators as long as they pass the environmental impact evaluations.”

Since the beginning of the industrial age, the oceans have absorbed 30% of the CO2 emissions and 80% of the heat generated by greenhouse gases. This fact, together with continuous and quick growth of CO2 emissions of human origin -mostly from burning fossil fuels- has begun to seriously alter oceanic chemistry.

The effects of this continuous absorption of CO2 translate mainly into a major decrease of marine pH; in other words, the water becomes increasingly more acidic. The acidity of the oceans’ surface layer has increased by 30% since the pre-industrial era, thus bringing on acidification.

Acidification hinders, and in extreme cases completely prevents the formation of calcium carbonate structures by marine organisms such as crustaceans, mollusks and coral. These creatures need this component to form their shells and external skeletons. Many of these organisms are the base of food chains for thousands of species. Therefore, their disappearance is a big threat to both ecosystems and those populations that depend in some way on those ecosystems.

In order to be able to halt the acidification process of our oceans, we must be able to reduce our emissions by 25-40%, in comparison with the 1990 levels, by the year 2020, and by 80-95% by 2050 as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Along these lines, at the meetings preceding the Climate Change Summit, the EU presented its proposal to reduce emissions by 2020 by 30% compared to 1990 levels, if the rest of the countries with obligations take steps in the same direction, and 80-95% by 2050.

ACIDIFCATION IN FIGURES

  • The oceans’ acidity has increased by 30% with respect to pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
  • In the atmosphere, there are currently 385 parts of CO2 per million, already destructive and irreversible for different marine ecosystems and species. By 2030-2040 levels can be as high as 450 ppm, leading to a rapid decline worldwide of corals and other marine organisms.
  • To reduce risks to marine ecosystem it is necessary to cut down CO2 concentration to less than 350 ppm. This demands an emissions reduction of 80-90% well before 2050.
  • If CO2 emissions continue to increase at the current rate, the oceanic pH will drop to the lowest level in the last 20 million years, and there will be a massive coral extinction.
  • One fourth of the existing marine species, 9 million, depend on coral reefs for their reproduction or food.
  • In 2006, 2,900 million people got at least 15% of their animal protein intake from fish.
  • Coral reefs constitute a source of income, food and coastal protection for more than 500 million people in the world.

To reduce risks to marine ecosystem it is necessary to cut down CO2 concentration to less than 350 ppm. This demands an emissions reduction of 80-90% well before 2050.

Report: Acid Test. Can We Save Our Oceans from CO2?