New era dawns for world’s oceans via EPOCA

Last June, the EU’s largest research consortium to combat ocean acidification was launched. The European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) combines over 100 scientists from 27 organisations in 9 countries. Its aim is to document ocean acidification and investigate its impact on biological processes. Based on this information the project can then predict its consequences for the next 100 years, and advise policy-makers on potential thresholds or tipping points that should not be exceeded. The project is partly funded by the EU with EUR 6.5 million.

Governments around the world, and especially the EU, are implementing many actions to tackle climate change with many more in the planning stages. However, before they can be implemented, more information is often required so as to ensure that further damage is avoided; this is in fact the basis of the precautionary principle to which the EU strongly adheres. This is also the basis behind EPOCA.

The consortium is researching ocean acidification and any link there may be with ocean fertilisation. Ocean fertilisation is the controversial process whereby nutrients are added to the world’s oceans and seas to promote the growth of carbon-absorbing algae. In so doing, the argument goes that we can successfully sequester – or “trap” – carbon dioxide emissions.

Opponents, however, argue that increasing the levels of carbon dioxide will also increase the acidity level of the water. This may have a serious effect on hard-shelled animals including oysters, crabs and lobsters, as the acidity may disrupt their ability to form their protective shells. This will therefore make them especially vulnerable to predators and adversely disrupt the food chain for many years to come.

Also joining the research efforts is the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Their role is to ensure that ocean acidification research being carried out through the project is coordinated with the research activities of non-EU scientists. Specifically, the IOC will work with EPOCA and non-EPOCA scientists to develop international agreements on protocols and standards for ocean acidification research experiments.

In concordance with the consortium, the IOC aims to develop common methodologies in order to identify differences, or lack thereof, in calcification among various taxa, regions, and over time, and ensure that data be reported in a manner that will be comprehensible and accessible to scientists several decades from now in order to detect changes.

It was during the 9th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity held from the 19-30 May 2008 that a moratorium was called on ocean fertilisation. Delegates from 191 countries attended the conference, including the countries from the EU.

Countries are requested to ensure that ocean fertilisation activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis. The delegates also agreed that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) should look to the London Convention for guidance on regulation of fertilisation. The final version of the approved document will be released later this month by the CBD secretariat.

European Commission Headlines, 18 July 2008. Article.

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