Pacific worst placed for acid threat

Ocean acidification poses a serious threat to coral reefs and marine life, but nowhere worse than in the Pacific Islands, a Samoan environmentalist says.

The oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, which while possibly reducing the effects of climate change, it also makes the oceans more acidic, Iosefa Percival said.

This could lead to dire consequences because if the current rate of CO2 emissions continues, coral reefs could begin to erode and dissolve in less than 40 years, threatening the marine environment Pacific Islanders rely on.

It was estimated that the acidity in seawater increased by 30 per cent between 1751 and 1994, Percival said.

The Samoan has been studying the effects of ocean acidification in the Pacific with the hope that his research will be noticed and the international community will come together to address the issue.

Percival grew up in Tiapapata, Samoa, and remembers the first fish he caught and wave he surfed.

“I am filled with anxious dread as I discover the current declining state of oceans,” he said.

“I hope that my children, and my children’s children, will be able to share the same connection that my ancestors and I have had with the Pacific Ocean.”

But the future of his grandchildren is threatened as the increasing acidity of the ocean reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, which is an essential ingredient in creating coral reefs, shells, and the exoskeletons of many marine animals.

The animal’s metabolism could change forever, and some species could become extinct, Percival said.

Globally, around 500 million people depended on coral reefs for their livelihoods, he said.

In Samoa, fish exports account for more than half of the country’s total exports.

“It poses a very serious threat to Pacific Islanders who depend so heavily on the marine environment,” Percival said.

“There is not enough known about exactly how each species will react to changes in the ocean environment, especially in the Pacific where impacts are likely to be the most severe.”

Percival is studying ocean acidification as an intern for the Conservation International’s Pacific Islands Programme, based in the United States, but would like to work in Samoa in the future.

Michelle Cooke, stuff.co.nz, 14 July 2012. Article.


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