With today's massive amounts of CO2 being discharged into the atmosphere, the ocean itself is absorbing more and more of the carbon as it settles to earth. Where once we thought that the ocean could actually be a storage facility for large quantities of carbon (called carbon sequestration), we now find that the amount far exceeds what the seas are capable of handling. The result is a decrease in the pH of the ocean, making it more acidic. That is the essence of ocean acidification.
“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,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“If we’re going to stop this crisis from getting far worse, we’ll need
national leadership at the top levels of our government.”
The effects of ocean acidification is a reversal of many of the other threats imposed by man. Overfishing, particularly of pelagic predators like tuna, billfish, and sharks, among other fish commercially sought after, is a top down assault on marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification, on the other hand, works primarily from the bottom up. The decreased pH level destroys many of the microscopic animals that make up plankton, a basic building block in the aquatic food chain. Also animals like shells and coral that use calcium carbonate in the making of their exoskeletons are put at risk as the increased pH retards or breaks down the growth of calcium carbonate.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has started a new ocean acidification campaign, Endangered Oceans.org. CBD specializes in taking conservation issues to the doorsteps of government agencies by wielding the power of the courts. Working in consort with other organizations, the Center has initiated many lawsuits and other legal actions to force U.S. government agencies to abide by the mandates that currently exist, but are often ignored, within federal and state environmental laws. And they have a track record of many successes.
However, ocean acidification is a challenging nemesis for CBD to take on as it is a truly global issue. The CO2 being pumped into our atmosphere - from factories, automobiles, energy plants, just to name a few - does not recognize political or geographic boundaries. Every nation has a responsibility to act not only for they sake of their own people but for humankind as a whole - not to mention the oceans themselves.
While I was attending the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Ocean Conservation Event last month in Monterey, California, another important conference was also taking place in the same hotel and conference center. It involved over 500 scientists who had come together to discuss the current state of ocean acidification, where it's heading, and what needs to be done about it.
"Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas are
causing the oceans to acidify more and more rapidly than at any time
since the extinction of the dinosaurs. It's time for actions that
reduce carbon pollution in our oceans before it's too late,” said Ken
Caldeira, climate scientist in the Carnegie Institution Department of
Global Ecology at Stanford University.
Learn more about CBD's Endangered Oceans campaign and circulate their new infographic (shown above, click on the image to enlarge) among your friends and colleagues - those who may not be aware of ocean acidification and the threat it imposes on the oceans and ourselves.