Blog Tags: Ocean Acidification
Ocean News: Obama Makes Big Moves for Tackling Seafood Fraud and Protecting Marine Habitat, and More
- In a video announcement released at the Our Ocean conference today, President Obama announced that he will expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This Monument contains some of the most pristine tropical ecosystems in the world, but is vulnerable to ocean acidification and climate change. The Associated Press
We all know that climate change poses a huge threat to the oceans, including rising sea levels and coral reef bleaching, but you may be wondering how that trickles down to your dinner plate. The overarching theme of the recent 1,552-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) found that climate change is undeniable, mostly caused by human activities, and is occurring globally.
Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been busy building momentum to protect the oceans for generations to come. Next week, the U.S. Department of State will host the first “Our Ocean” conference, an event where prominent scientists, world leaders, and conservationists will converge to tackle some of the biggest threats facing the oceans today. The invitation-only conference will be held on Monday, June 16 and Tuesday, June 17 in Washington D.C.
- Last week, Israel’s Protection of the Coastal Environment approved its first deep-sea maritime reserve off the coast of the northern village Rosh Hanikra — the first of its kind for Israel. Haaretz
A new study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change finds that ocean acidification could cause the Southern Ocean Antarctic krill population to crash by 2300, meaning dire consequences for whales, seals, penguins, and the entire ecosystem it supports. In addition to devastating ecosystem effects, a collapse in krill populations could have serious economic implications, as the species represents the region’s largest fishery resource.
For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the same location where Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles David Keeling first established the “Keeling Curve,” a famous graph showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. On May 9, the reading was a startling 400.08 ppm for a 24-hour period. But without the help of the oceans, this number would already be much higher.
This month, in the midst of the 18th UN Climate Change Conference (COP-18) in Qatar, the World Bank released a report titled “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided.” The report, already causing a buzz in the global community, paints a grim picture of what the world might look like if global temperatures reach 4°C above preindustrial levels.
The report states that without intensive mitigation and global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, we will reach the 4° threshold by the end of the century, leading to the inundation of low-lying and island communities, extreme weather including drought and flooding, severe losses to biodiversity, and global instability due to displacement and famine.
But the report also details the dangers of ocean acidification, often referred to as climate change’s (equally evil) twin. Carbon dioxide emissions, the root cause of both climate change and ocean acidification, fundamentally change the chemistry of the ocean. Increased carbon dioxide uptake by the ocean increases the acidity of seawater, which threatens corals, plankton, oysters, cuttlefish, and other marine organisms that build shells. Ocean acidification is dangerous for many marine species and it is happening right now.
In the projected “4°C world,” the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic than preindustrial levels. This type of rapid, anthropogenic change in ocean chemistry is likely unparalleled in Earth’s history and could eliminate entire ecosystems, including coral reefs. If CO2 levels reach 450 ppm (corresponding to a global warming of about 1.4°C), coral growth could stop altogether.
The loss of coral reefs would be catastrophic for the ocean and the millions of people who depend on reefs for food, income, and protection against coastal floods and rising sea levels. The bottom line: marine life and those that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods will suffer as global temperatures rise.
In the foreword, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim writes, “A 4°C world can, and must, be avoided.” Oceana is working hard to make sure solutions like shifting from dirty energy to clean, offshore wind power and regulating carbon dioxide emissions are part of the international movement to prevent ocean acidification from further impacting our oceans.
Want to be a part of the movement? Click here to learn what you can do!
Caroline Wood is the Clean Ocean Energy Intern on Oceana's Climate and Energy Campaign
While the retreat from rising seas may seem like a distant, if abysmal, end-of-the-century scenario, it is in fact already taking place in some low-lying island communities. For the Guna (pronounced “Kuna”) people of Panama the abandonment of their ancestral homeland, the San Blas Islands, has become the only option after frequent floods have made their way of life impossible.
While the flooding of the San Blas Islands is partly a consequence of rising sea levels, the Guna are not entirely blameless. Coral reefs that once surrounded and buffered the islands from storm surges and flooding have been destroyed after decades of exploitation (ironically, the Guna mined the reefs to build up the islands). It has been enough, according to Reuters “to submerge the Caribbean islands for days on end”.
Above is a good primer on ocean acidification narrated by Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The video spans the vulnerable corals of Australia's Great Barrier Reef to the equally vulnerable shellfish industry of the Pacific Northwest, detailing the potential effects of a more acidic ocean.
To those unfamiliar with global warming's "evil twin", the video does a good job of explaining the basics of ocean acidification: simply put, carbon dioxide reacts with ocean water to make carbonic acid. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of civilization's carbon dioxide emissions, and as a result they are now 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution. What does this mean for animals like clams, corals, or oysters that rely on a more stable pH range to build their calcium carbonate skeletons and shells?
Mother nature has provided some of her own experiments, as documented in the video. Near Vesuvius in the Mediterranean carbon dioxide bubbles up from below, rendering a glimpse in to a future, more acidic, and bleaker ocean. Closer to the vents, where the water is more saturated with carbon dioxide, the communities of life become less diverse and invasive algaes thrive.
Off of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is already struggling in the new man-made environment. As more and more acidic water continues to erode the corals in the coming decades, these ecosystems of otherworldly beauty and diversity could simply go extinct.
Perhaps most worrisome of all is the effect of acidification on pteropods, a shell forming plankton at the very bottom of the ocean's food web, nicknamed the "potato chips of the sea". These animals are especially vulnerable to acidification, and as the narrator ominously intones: "If their shells dissolve a critical part of the food web dissolves with them".
Learn more about ocean acidification and what you can do to help.
Oceana’s new report, Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World ranks nations to show which are most vulnerable to reductions in seafood production as a result of climate change and ocean acidification. While seafood is currently a primary source of protein for more than a billion of the poorest people in the world, carbon dioxide emissions are causing the oceans to warm and become more acidic, threatening fisheries and the people who depend on them.
Rising ocean temperatures are pushing many fish species into deeper and colder waters towards the poles and away from the tropics, while increased acidity is threatening important habitats such as coral reefs and the future of shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels.
Many coastal and island developing nations, such as Togo, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Madagascar and Thailand depend more heavily on seafood for protein and could suffer the greatest hardships because they have fewer resources to replace what is lost from the sea. For many developing countries, seafood is often the cheapest and most readily available source of protein, losing this resource could have serious impacts on livelihoods and food security.
The only way to address global ocean acidification and the primary path to ending climate change is by dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions. One of the first steps in this process should be to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies.
Some local measures may help make marine resources more resilient to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification such as stopping overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, as well as establishing no take marine protected areas and limiting local pollution. But reducing carbon dioxide emissions is essential to make sure the oceans stay vibrant and productive for future generations.
To find the full ranking of nations’ vulnerability to climate change and ocean acidification check out our report: http://oceana.org/en/HighCO2World
- Oceana Provides Comments to President Obama’s Task Force to Tackle Illegal Fishing and Seafood Fraud Posted Wed, September 10, 2014
- Sharks and Rays Gain International Protection under CITES Listing Posted Sun, September 14, 2014
- Infographic: BP to Blame for 2010 Deepwater Oil Disaster, Rules Judge Posted Tue, September 9, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Healthy Corals Mean More Sharks, Extinct Dolphin Found in Peruvian Desert, and More Posted Thu, September 11, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Shark-Eating Dinosaur Fossils Discovered, Germany Paving Way for Cheaper Wind Energy, and More Posted Mon, September 15, 2014