UK science spotlights ocean acidification

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University are co-ordinating research into how climate change might affect biodiversity in our offshore waters, and which might have a serious impact on future medical treatments.

Dr J Murray Roberts, Reader in Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt University, leads the project. “Many people don’t even realise that there are very large scale cold-water coral reefs off the west coast of Scotland and that these are homes to a wide variety of other marine life.

“This in itself is important because some of the most important developments in new drugs, including anti-cancer therapies, come from marine organisms, particularly sponges. To date these have often been tropical sponges, but cold-water sponges are now becoming a new focus of attention.

“We recently logged 100 species of sponges in cold-water coral reefs at Mingulay, so any threat to these reefs means a threat to local biodiversity and in turn a threat to potential new drug treatments.

“If the ocean acidification projections are correct, waters that have been suitable for cold-water coral growth for many hundreds of thousands of years could become corrosive by the end of the century. Cold-water corals produce one of the most biodiversity-rich habitats in the oceans but we’ve barely begun to understand their ecology and importance. It’s starting to look as though we could be altering the chemistry of the oceans to such an extent that cold-water corals will simply start to dissolve where they’re growing so this project is vitally important to understand how the corals may respond to a changing world.”

Heriot Watt Unversity News, 16 June 2010. Full article.

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