The journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment have published an interesting guest editorial article titled “The oceans’ acid test: can our reefs be saved?” byand
The climate change dialogue has picked up steam in recent months, but it has largely ignored the oceans, in spite of the tremendous service they provide, by absorbing millions of tons of atmospheric CO2 to buffer climate change. Frontiers and other journals have highlighted the impacts of the resulting ocean acidification, but its consequences demand a lot more attention – not just for the sake of marine ecosystems, but for our own sake as well.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Richard Feely aptly called ocean acidification global warming’s “evil twin”, likely because of the disturbing trend of decreased pH that has begun to occur throughout the world’s oceans. His analogy conjures up a vision of a superhero gone bad, threatening our oceans while society innocently sleeps, which is not so far off.
This “evil twin” has the power to cause a far-reaching extinction of corals, both the tropical and deepwater varieties, along with other calcifying marine organisms, which could lead to an epic disruption of ocean ecosystems in this century. The impacts on society would be widespread, ranging from commercial losses in fisheries and tourism, to lost potential for new, life-saving pharmaceuticals that could be derived from marine species. Over time, the storm protection services provided by reefs would disappear – possibly just when they’re needed most, as global warming increases storm intensity. Ripple effects will be felt throughout the marine ecosystems, as well as among seabirds and even many terrestrial species – not to mention the aesthetic loss of the vast array of intricate, ornate, colorful reef organisms that inspire awe and wonder, and which we bear an ethical responsibility to preserve for future generations.
The need to maintain the economic, ecological, and cultural services that reefs provide has led people to ask, “What will it take for governments to finally do something about it?” Let’s face it – we live on a political planet, where action is driven largely by dollars and votes, and decisions are made based on short-term, not long-term, benefits. So if we want governments to do something about ocean acidification, we need to make clear that our dollars and our votes depend on it.
According to scientists studying climate change, such as Ken Caldeira, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, and Jim Hansen, we need to stabilize our atmospheric CO2 levels at about 350 parts per million to prevent the loss of coral reefs. To do this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that countries like the US need to reduce emissions by 25–40% below 1990 levels by 2020 – and another 55% reduction from 1990 levels will be required by 2050. So we are talking about the need to convert to a very low carbon economy relatively quickly. This will be no small feat. The carbon we have been pumping into the atmosphere for free until now will cost us, retroactively. And it cannot be free from here on out, if we hope to solve the problem. Nevertheless, there is a lot we can do now.
(Read more at the Ocean Acidification Blog)