Ocean acidification: CO2 robs the Great Barrier Reef’s ability of self-recovery (video)

Scientists in Australia are already seeing some of the immediate impacts from climate change on the world’s oceans, and especially on coral reefs. But they warn that the long term impacts are what may cause the greatest devastation. CGTN’s Greg Navarro has more.

Neal Cantin peers through the glass of a giant aquarium at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Northeast Queensland, like the father of a newborn.

“This tank here has the parent generation.”

Next to the parent corals, are their offspring. And the research scientist is purposely putting them under stress.

“To see if we can enhance the tolerance of future generations of corals.”

Cantin says the world’s oceans are absorbing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide -fuelled in large part, scientists say, from burning fossil fuels.

NEAL CANTIN RESEARCH SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCE “Modelling projections are showing that we are going to have a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is going to make it a lot more difficult for animals to build their skeletons and as they use their energy, the energy stores become more depleted and things like other biological functions like reproduction may suffer.”

The process is called ocean acidification – and it’s slowly changing the chemistry of the world’s oceans.

GREG NAVARRO TOWNSVILLE “One way to visualise ocean acidification is to image that this sand is carbon dioxide. As more and more of it is released into the atmosphere – more of it is absorbed by the world’s oceans.”

Scientists say global warming is also increasing the water temperature.

NEAL CANTIN RESEARCH SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCE “At this point we are not sure that corals can cope with 2 degrees of warming and a tripling of the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the seawater.”

Warming sea water is already having a devastating effect on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon that robs coral of its ability to protect itself. And its becoming more frequent. The latest widespread coral bleaching occurred earlier this year.

PROF. TERRY HUGHES DIRECTOR, ARC CENTER FOR CORAL REEF STUDIES “We saw with the severity of this bleaching, 50 year old, 100 year old coral bleaching and dying at a rate that was really surprising.”

LINE BAY SR. RESEARCH SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCE “What I am concerned about at the moment is the disturbances we are seeing are so frequent that reefs may not have enough time to naturally recover in between.”

The loss of reefs wouldn’t just impact the vast amount of marine life they support – but also the people who have come to depend on them. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef helps to generates more than $5 billion AUD a year, and employs tens of thousands of people.

“This tells you the concentration of carbon dioxide in sea water.”

Neal Cantin is well aware of the race to protect reefs from the impacts of global warming.

NEAL CANTIN RESEARCH SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCE “Societies that are dependent on what the reef provides will be a very different place in the next 30 to 50 years.”

It’s a future Cantin says we can’t afford to see happen, which is why he and other scientists are focused on doing what they can now. Greg Navarro, CGTN, Townsville.

CGTN.com, 17 November 2017. Text and video.

 

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