Coral Reefs Being Destroyed by Ocean Acidification from Greenhouse Gases

The acidification of the ocean due to the industrial emission of carbon dioxide is destroying the world’s coral reefs, a coalition of marine experts has warned in the recently released Honolulu Declaration.

“Coral reefs are at the heart of our tropics, and millions of people around the world depend on these systems for their livelihoods,” said Lynne Hale, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Marine Initiative. “Without urgent action to limit carbon dioxide emissions and improve management of marine protected areas, even vast treasured reefs like the Great Barrier Reef and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will become wastelands of dead coral.”

Coral reefs have long been known to be threatened by effects of global warming, including coral bleaching, higher ocean temperatures and rising sea levels. But these threats are surpassed by the dangers of ocean acidification, which was named the number one threat to ocean life by scientists from the International Coral Reef Symposium in July.

For many years, scientists have known that the ocean is becoming more acidic due to industrial burning of fossil fuels. The ocean absorbs approximately one-third of all carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere, meaning it has absorbed some 175 billion tons in the past 200 years. When sea water mixes with carbon dioxide, they react to form carbonic acid.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that ocean acidification is now affecting waters just off the Pacific coast of North America and probably the rest of the world, rather than just deep oceans as some had previously thought. These waters have become so acidic that are actually dissolving the skeletons and even shells of coral, clams and starfish.

The fate of coral reefs is a warning for the whole planet, warned Billy Causey of the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary Program

“Although ocean acidification is affecting the health of our oceans, the same thing – increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – is going to in fact be affecting terrestrial environments also,” he said.

Sources for this story include:

David Gutierrez, Natural News, 3 March 2009. Article.

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