Coastal pH variability and the eco-physiological and behavioural response of a coastal fish species in light of future ocean acidification

Ocean acidification (OA) is a global phenomenon referring to a decrease in ocean pH and a perturbation of the seawater carbonate system due to ever-increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. In coastal environments, identifying the impacts of OA is complex due to the multiple contributors to pH variability by coastal processes, such as freshwater inflow, upwelling, hydrodynamic processes, and biological activity. The aim of this PhD study was to quantify the local processes occurring in a temperate coastal embayment, Algoa Bay in South Africa, that contribute to pH and carbonate chemistry variability over time (monthly and 24-hour) and space (~10 km) and examine how this variability impacts a local fish species, Diplodus capensis, also commonly known as ‘blacktail’. Algoa Bay, known for its complex oceanography, is an interesting location in which to quantify carbonate chemistry variability. To assess this variability, monitoring sites were selected to coincide with the Algoa Bay Sentinel Site long-term ecological research (LTER) and continuous monitoring (CMP) programmes. The average pH at offshore sites in the bay was 8.03 ± 0.07 and at inshore sites was 8.04 ± 0.15. High pH variability (~0.55–0.61 pH units) was recorded at both offshore (>10 m depth) and inshore sites (intertidal surf zones). Many sites in the bay, especially the atypical site at Cape Recife, exhibit higher than the average pH levels (>8.04), suggesting that pH variability may be biologically driven. This is further evidenced by high diurnal variability in pH (~0.55 pH units). Although the specific drivers of the high pH variability in Algoa Bay could not be identified, baseline carbonate chemistry conditions were identified, which is necessary information to design and interpret biological experiments. Long-term, continuous monitoring is required to improve understanding of the drivers of pH variability in understudied coastal regions, like Algoa Bay.

Edworthy C., 2020. Coastal pH variability and the eco-physiological and behavioural response of a coastal fish species in light of future ocean acidification. PhD thesis, Rhodes University. 186 p. Thesis.

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