How to protect the ocean from us?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — the national parks of the seas — are being designated all over the globe. Which is fantastic news. Who doesn’t want to give fish species verging on extinction a break? But while MPAs provide ecosystems a chance for regeneration, there’s no stopping other bad things from drifting into these aquatic preserves. The worst baddie floating through is carbonic acid, and why only an immediate reduction in carbon emissions will protect the ocean for real.

The ocean absorbs a third of the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide released via our burning of fossil fuels and break neck deforestation. But that favor comes at a steep price…an acidifying ocean.

Ocean acidification means even marine habitats under the strictest MPA designation “no-take zones” are struggling to cope with water that’s 30 percent more acidic than pre-industrial revolution.

In 1850 the ocean was around 8.2 pH, at our current rate of CO2 emissions it could drop to 7.8 pH by the end of this century. This overall change may sound like small potatoes, but equates to 100-150 percent more acidity.

For comparison, one of the leading U.S ocean acidification experts, Dr. Richard Feely, senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says if our blood — which is pH neutral — became .3 more acidic, our bodies would cease to function.

The implications for the ocean are just as dire.

The more acidic the ocean the less carbonate ions — what shellfish and coral use to build their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.

Warm water corals are already being decimated by a combination of ocean acidification and coral bleaching — caused by warming ocean temperatures. Some estimates say these reefs will be gone by 2050.

Tropical coral species are particularly hard pressed — adapted to live in the world’s warmest waters — they can only endure the slightest changes in temperature.

Most MPAs are in regions rich with coral reefs — because though reefs constitute only one percent of ocean habitat they’re home to a quarter of all marine species.

Fortunately, under the protection of MPA’s over-exploited reefs can recover and regain resilience, but they’re not foolproof. Some anthropogenic threats are reduced by MPAs, but the pervasive nature of ocean acidification means there’s no best-case scenario: some species can run, but none can hide, and coral reefs are the proverbial sitting duck.

Belinda Waymout, HuffPost, 2 September 2015. Article.

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