Ocean acidification threatens food webs, 150 scientists warn

We hear a lot about how carbon dioxide emissions are warming the atmosphere and changing climate in ways that are damaging, if not catastrophic, for life on Earth.

Increasingly we are also learning about the impact of carbon dioxide on the oceans. As the sea absorbs carbon from the air its chemistry is changing, becoming more acidic. This also is likely to have a profound impact on life, experts warn.

More than 150 marine scientists from 26 countries called for immediate action by policymakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions sharply so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification. They sounded the alarm in the Monaco Declaration, released Friday, according to a news release by Unesco.

Ocean acidification could affect marine food webs and lead to substantial changes in commercial fish stocks, threatening protein supply and food security for millions of people as well as the multi-billion dollar fishing industry, the Monaco Declaration says.

“Coral reefs provide fish habitat, generate billions of dollars annually in tourism, protect shorelines from erosion and flooding, and provide the foundation for tremendous biodiversity, equivalent to that found in tropical rain forests,” the Declaration says.

“Yet by mid-century, ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs. These and other acidification related changes could affect a wealth of marine goods and services, such as our ability to use the ocean to manage waste, to provide chemicals to make new medicines, and to benefit from its natural capacity to regulate climate.

“For instance, ocean acidification will reduce the ocean’s capacity to absorb anthropogenic CO2, which will exacerbate climate change.”

To avoid severe and widespread damages, all of which are ultimately driven by increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists called for policymakers to act quickly to incorporate these concerns into plans to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at a safe level to avoid not only dangerous climate change but also dangerous ocean acidification.

The National Geographic Blogs, 2 February 2009. Full article.

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