An acidifying ocean spells disaster for marine and human systems

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Human communities rely on their relationships with the ocean. Marine systems provide humans with ecosystem services such as pollution filtration and shore protection. Societies living in marine areas also benefit economically through fisheries and tourism. However, humans are indirectly harming marine ecosystems through increased carbon dioxide emissions. When the ocean takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, pH levels drop and the ocean becomes more acidic. This process is called ocean acidification.

A recent review paper in Annual Reviews of Environment and Resources synthesized the harmful effects of ocean acidification and how these effects impact human communities. They found that two types of marine ecosystems important for humans, oyster reefs and coral reefs, are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. The oysters that make up oyster reefs will not be able to grow as thick of shells as usual in acidic ocean water and their offspring will struggle to survive. Coral reefs will also suffer as coral skeletons grow weaker and pH-tolerant algal species compete with corals.

These findings show that ocean acidification is a serious threat to marine ecosystems. The researchers conclude with several suggestions on how to lessen the effects of ocean acidification, the foremost being a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. They also advocate for disaster risk reduction and flexible policies to protect vulnerable coastal human communities. 

Keira Monuki, Massive Science, 30 November 2020. Article.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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