Rising ocean acidity threatens low-lying islands

Rising acidity in the ocean caused by seas absorbing greenhouse carbon dioxide could make low-lying island nations like Kiribati and the Maldives more vulnerable to storms as their coral reefs struggle to survive, say scientists.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in the past 650,000 years, possible 23 million years, and half has now been dissolved into the oceans making them more acidic.

Ocean acidification, which is projected to spread extensively north from the Antarctic by 2100, makes it difficult or impossible for some animals, like coral and starfish, to produce their shells and skeletons.
“If ocean acidification weakens the structure of reef-forming corals and algae, tropical systems (islands) will be more vulnerable to physical impacts from storms and cyclones,” said a new report by some of the world’s leading marine scientists.

“By 2100, it is expected that some reefs will become marginal and reef calcification will decline,” said the report, by the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, released on Monday.

The report cited Kiribati in the South Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean as being more vulnerable to tropical storms if ocean acidification continues to rise.

“These impacts will also directly affect important commercial, recreational or subsistence reef fisheries where the target species depend on reef habitats,” said the report, released at an ocean acidification conference in Hobart.

Ocean acidification is when carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea forming a weak acid, carbonic acid. Human-induced carbon dioxide has largely been produced by burning fossil fuels, agricultural practices and concrete production.

Michael Perry, Reuters India, 2 June 2008. Article.

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