Acting on Ocean Acidification: Investing for the future

Ocean acidification is a growing problem within the marine environment. Though the ocean as a natural carbon sink has helped shield us from the full impact of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the consequences for the ocean are dire.

The process of ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere by man-made processes such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation. Excess CO2 is absorbed into sea water and forms carbonic acid, which then results in a change in pH that disrupts the carefully balanced chemistry of the ocean, and compounds the impacts of other ocean stressors like warming, overfishing and pollution. Research has already demonstrated the potential impacts of ocean acidification, which range from reduced survival to slowed growth and decline
of marine species. Notably, acidification hampers the ability of calcifying organisms like coral reefs, pteropods and shellfish to produce calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, leaving these
organisms vulnerable to other stressors. The longer this situation continues unregulated, the worse the likely consequences will be. The effects are already being felt in places such as the Oregon and Washington coasts of the USA, where acidification has contributed to a high mortality rate of oyster larvae, threatening an industry worth approximately $270 million annually for the coastal economy.

How do we mitigate this problem? The most effective solution to  limit further ocean acidification is to reduce the release of future CO2 into the atmosphere, namely through the commitments of
countries to achieve overall national or regional reduction targets. The recently published report ‘Acting on Ocean Acidification’ sets out seven key recommendations for ocean acidification mitigation alongside and concrete climate targets that may arise from COP21 in Paris, and that need to be achieved within the next ten years.

Observing and forecasting systems: Investing in observing strategies that cover a wide range of areas and species, especially where ocean acidification threatens to compromise livelihoods, will help policy makers to target responses more effectively. Additionally, investing in better forecasting infrastructure will help scientists to stay a step ahead of developments in ocean acidification.

Assessing impacts on coastal zones: With the help of the aforementioned forecasting systems, priority will be given to coastal zones where oceanacidification is likely to elevate risk and/or cause impacts, where a more immediate policy response is required.

Linkages to human and ecosystem health and wellbeing: Another important tool to combat ocean acidification is research. Improved information sharing between the ocean observing communities, either through data sharing or improved data management models, would help to increase our knowledge on the impacts of ocean acidification on human well-being and ecosystems, and help bring together science and policy. Expanding the knowledge base helps policy makers create up-todate plans that reflect the action needed to slow this problem. In particular, the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON), established in 2013, is a tool that provides context to the situation of ocean acidification and aims to escalate information sharing to better create solutions.

Generating risk awareness: A risk-aware public is one that understands how ocean acidification will affect their own local community. Understanding the impacts will likely create a public that puts pressure on their policy-makers to make effective change, as well as understands how to adapt and manage the impacts of ocean acidification. An essential part of this, according to the report, is decoding complex scientific information into easily digestible information for the public.

Scientific coordination and cooperation: The report recommends expanding the zone of cooperation to involve seafood producers, mariners, coastalplanners, governments, and any other relevant
stakeholders to widen the support base and increase the effectiveness of any plan to combat ocean acidification.

Political leadership: Finally, strong political will is needed to inspire global action and encourage cooperation between countries. What is clear is that ocean acidification is a problem that touches all nations – even land-locked ones – that contribute to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This issue can therefore only be effectively managed on a scale that also involves problem-solving for other ocean stressors, as previously noted, such as eutrophication and deoxygenation. This problem requires dedicated leadership, investment and information to create concrete changes for the future.

This article draws from the report “Acting on Ocean Acidification: improving prospects by planning ahead”, authored by Dan Laffoley and John Baxter. The report can be found online at

For more information, please contact Dan Laffoley (danlaffoley(at) or John Baxter (j.baxter4(at)

IUCN Marine News, November 2015. Article.

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