Worldwide food security could be harmed by changes in ocean chemistry driven by fossil fuel use, according to a new scientific study released last week by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The study, which ranks nations according to their vulnerability to reduced mollusk harvests due to ocean acidification, was published online by the journal Fish and Fisheries on July 7, 2011.
Ocean acidification occurs as seawater absorbs up to a third of the carbon dioxide emissions we release, setting off a chemical chain reaction that robs marine animals of calcium carbonate, an essential building block for shells and skeletons.
Principal researcher Dr. Sarah Cooley’s study shows that reduced availability of foods like clams and oysters could worsen protein shortages for human populations worldwide, especially in developing nations. It could also lead to reductions in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many nations, including the United States.
“What goes around comes around. Ocean acidification is definitely an anthropogenic problem (resulting from human activities). But it will come back and influence human communities,” said Dr. Cooley.
According to the study, the most impacted nations are those that lack the ability to shift to an aquaculture solution, including Haiti, Senegal and Madagascar. These nations are highly dependent on shellfish and already struggling with protein deficiencies. Moreover, the study suggests that the fisheries damage caused by ocean acidification could have a ripple effect in economies worldwide.
These changes are expected to occur during the next 10 to 50 years and have already been implicated in major economic losses for Pacific Northwest oyster farms, as well as slowed coral growth on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
This study is more evidence that continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels will harm not just marine life but also humans.
“These man-made changes to ocean chemistry will affect everyone, from artisanal clam and oyster fishermen in Haiti to waiters in American seafood restaurants,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior scientist and senior campaign director for Oceana. “And when food security in one country is seriously threatened, it may lead to conflicts, making it a national security issue for other countries as well.”
“We must begin to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which are driving soaring carbon dioxide emissions and ocean acidification. By supporting a robust clean energy sector, while ending unnecessary taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuel industries, we can start the necessary transition. This transition will help minimize the projected food shortages in many nations,” added Savitz.
To obtain a PDF copy of the latest WHOI acidification study (1 MB in size), please send an e-mail to [email protected].