Increased ocean acidification not a threat to coral reefs, scientists claim

A new study challenges previous evidence that shows increased ocean acidification poses threat to coral reefs, claiming that corals continue to flourish despite this condition.

According to researchers affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions may not have the devastating impact on coral reefs that most in the field have assumed would occur.

In their study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team sought to better understand what might happen with coral reefs if more carbon dioxide makes its way into the oceans due to an increase of the gas in the atmosphere caused by human emissions.

The researchers set up sensors along a coral reef offshore from Bermuda to monitor information from 2007 to 2012. The team also had access to data from an ocean chemistry monitoring station approximately 80 kilometers from their study site. The combined data offered a unique perspective on coral activity, according to the team.

They noticed that spikes of phytoplankton blooms occurred during 2010 and again in 2011. During this period, the blooms made their way to the coral reef and offered more food than normal for the coral. The coral responded by growing, which caused them to pull more alkaline carbonate from the surrounding water, making it more acidic. Eating more also resulted in the corals emitting more carbon dioxide into water. As a result, there was a significant increase in acidity to levels higher than which was  predicted for the future due to human emissions. However, the coral continued to flourish, the team notes.

The researchers say their findings support a small study conducted by another team in Western Australia, where they put boxes around some coral and piped in carbon dioxide, to no detrimental effect.

According to the team, the study contrasts sharply with the prevailing view that an increase in acidity is harmful to coral, leading to death if it goes too far. This is not the case at all, the researchers say, muddling theories regarding the impact on the oceans of higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures.

Ocean acidification is likely to be the most significant impact of a changing climate on the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The agency says its effect on marine life is less known as the process has only been recognised for less than a decade. However, it notes that even relatively small increases in ocean acidity decrease the capacity of corals to build skeletons, which in turn decreases their capacity to create habitat for the Reef’s marine life.

Karla Tecson, International Business Times, 11 November 2015. Article.

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