The socioeconomic costs of ocean acidification

Seawater’s lower pH will affect food supplies, pocketbooks, and lifestyles

The increasing acidification of the oceans is measured in pH units, but its impacts on people will be measured in dollar signs, says Sarah Cooley. Commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, the protection of shorelines by coral reefs—all could be harmed by ocean acidification that is already well under way. Not to mention the hard-to-quantify-but-significant cultural and lifestyle changes that communities will have to make to adapt to changing marine ecosystems.

In other words, ocean acidification is not just a problem for corals and other marine life. It has the potential to change the way humans feed themselves, earn their livings, run their communities, and live their lives.

“What goes around comes around,” said Cooley, a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). “Ocean acidification is definitely an anthropogenic problem [resulting from human activities] but it will come back and influence human communities.”

A marine chemist by training, Cooley sought a way after graduate school to apply her scientific know-how to socioeconomic problems. Working with WHOI marine chemist Scott Doney and Hauke Kite-Powell from the WHOI Marine Policy Center, she is trying to predict what ocean acidification will do to the marine resources that people living in New England, or western Africa, or island nations depend on, and she is looking toward what we can do to prepare for those changes and perhaps mitigate the worst of them.

“We’re working on ways to put a dollar value on the potential losses that could occur due to ocean acidification, so we can go to policy-makers and say, ‘It’s going to cost X many dollars in lost jobs and lost fishing revenues, but if we do Y money’s worth of planning now, we’ll be in good shape,’ ” she said.

Cherie Winner, WHOI: Oceanus- The Magazine that Explores the Oceans in Depth. 8 January 2010. Full article.

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