Ocean acidification leading to disintegration of Florida’s coral reef

Almost all coral reefs around the globe have been declining due to numerous reasons, including bleaching event caused by global warming. Now, a new study has found that a coral reef region in Florida, also known as the biggest coral reef in the continental US, is dissolving faster than previously thought.

The study conducted by researchers from Florida International University and the University of Miami has claimed that human-induced ocean acidification is responsible for this disintegration. Results of the research have been published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

For the study, the team considered surveys conducted from 2009 to 2010 throughout the Florida Keys. The surveys, with the help of chemical analyses, tried to determine the rates at which region’s coral reefs were dissolving.

The researchers noted that the coral reef tract was disintegrating rapidly, generally during fall and winter. There found the phenomenon in various regions throughout the Keys. Some regions in south were noted making up during some parts of the year, generally spring and summer.

According to the team, worrisome results were from the reef in the northern Keys, closer to Miami, where the process of disintegration was quicker than other regions. Ocean acidification is the main culprit of this erosion, said Chris Langdon, a researcher from the University of Miami’s department of marine biology and ecology and lead author of the study.

Ocean acidification is a chemical process which takes place when CO2 dissolves in ocean’s water and lowers pH. When this reaction happens, ocean suffers many problems, like acidification, Langdon said.

“First, when water becomes more acidic, limestone – which is what makes up the hard, rocky skeletons secreted by corals – can start to dissolve, just like you dropped a sugar cube in water”, as per the lead author.

A report published in Miamiherald revealed, “The UM report found that acidification, the process by which the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is turning out to be a deadlier threat, mainly due to spells of unusually hot weather – among other causes. Acidification is expected to increase as the climate warms, so the ultimate answer is to prevent the increasing buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by reducing global warming and the continued use of carbon-based fuels.”

n December, the Corps blamed the damage on “white plague,” a virus that bleaches and kills coral. A new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disagreed, however. It blames dredging sediment, which suffocates the coral. It cites the dredging itself and the failure to protect the vulnerable coral.

“Ocean water is growing increasingly acidic as it absorbs the extra CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere, and now that water is eating away at the limestone foundations of coral reefs. A new study found that in the northern section of the Florida Keys’ reef – the third largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world – 6 million tons of limestone have disappeared over the past six years,” according to a news report published by Grist.

Ocean acidification is different from coral bleaching, another threat to reefs, though both have a common cause (climate change) and a common effect (dying corals). We’re looking to our most resilient corals to survive the challenges of living in today’s oceans.

According to a report in Washingtonpost by Chelsea Harvey, “The research, published earlier this week in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, took surveys of coral throughout the Florida Keys from 2009 to 2010, using chemical analyses of water samples to examine the rates at which corals were either calcifying – that is, building new parts of the reef – or disintegrating into the water.”

The results are especially worrisome, given that the northern part of the reef appears to have hit a tipping point in which more limestone is being lost than rebuilt. While it’s well established that acidification is bad for coral, previous research had suggested that reefs around the world likely wouldn’t hit this net erosion threshold until closer to mid-century, when carbon dioxide levels were higher.

Natalia Hall, Northern California News, 5 May 2016. Article.

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