Our abuse of natural resources such as fossil fuels, rampant deforestation, and changes in land use has caused havoc on the oceans. Climate change has led to dangerous phenomena around the world. It has also caused the release of carbon dioxide, which leads to ocean acidification.
Ultimately, the oceans absorb the carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere. It plays an essential role in climate regulation as it mitigates climate change. However, with the unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide created by humans, it surpasses what our oceans can absorb. Thus, it changes ocean chemistry making it more acidic. In this article, we will understand further what is turning the seas into acid.
Understanding the ocean’s pH Level
The ocean’s acidity is measured on a pH scale. If the ocean has a lower Ocean pH, it means that it is more acidic. For the past two hundred years, the ocean pH level has dropped by 30%.
For some, they might find that the drop in the ocean’s pH is small, which is from 8.2 to 8.1 pH level. But the scale is logarithmic, which means that the change is already large enough to affect the ocean’s species. These include the fishes and the corals.
With the changing of the ocean’s acidity, it impends to throw off the chemical balance of the marine life to survive. Through the years, this issue has received focus primarily on the coral reefs. The reefs are threatened, and they are nearing extinction, not unless we change our lifestyle.
The coral reefs are considered the framework builders. These are the most diverse ecosystem of the oceans.
We must take note that the impact of ocean acidification does not stop with the coral reefs. Just like dominoes, its effects are far-reaching throughout the oceans.
Importance of pH Balance in the ocean
Indeed, pH balance is essential to all living things. If there is a change in the internal pH level, it can compromise the animal’s health. Worse, it can even kill it. Marine plants and animals must regulate their internal pH levels in connection with the surrounding seawater. Some fishes and plants have complex systems that help them regulate their internal pH and prevent them from becoming basic or acidic. Meanwhile, other species do not have these systems. Thus, they can become influenced by their surrounding environment and be affected by the changing acidity.
There are marine species that are immune to ocean acidification due to their complex buffering capabilities. But research shows that some marine animals have become overwhelmed with the rising ocean acidity.
If we continue to allow the oceans to become more acidic, we put them at risk of becoming less dynamic and vibrant. The future oceans of our children will be different from what we have in the past.
It is clear that because of ocean acidification poses a major threat to marine life. It affects the food, goods, and services that we depend on.
The only effective way to change this phenomenon is to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. Our actions today will determine how acidic our oceans can be in the future. If we do nothing, the oceans will become more acidic in the coming years versus than at any time in the last 20 million years.
Indeed, we are changing the ocean’s acidity very fast, and it is unprecedented. It is very alarming! According to research, most marine species have never adjusted to the changing pH level of 6.
But remember that this must not be the ocean’s fate. Reduce the risk of this catastrophe by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions now.
Far-Reaching Effect of Ocean’s Acidification
The increasing acidification of the oceans can lead to carbonate shortage. This is an important building block that plants and animals need to build their skeletons and shells. Apart from corals, other animals that use carbonate to strengthen and build their shells, like calcifiers, can also suffer. Examples of these are oysters, clams, crabs, and lobsters.
However, carbonate is not just the only problem. Each marine life, from smallest to largest, can be affected by ocean acidification. Both can be a direct or indirect impact.
A direct impact may refer to the physiology of plants and animals. It can result in the lack of available carbonate needed by their bodies to strengthen and build their skeletons and shells. Due to the increasing acidity, some fish may reduce their ability to breathe in the coming years. It can also increase the growth rates of sea stars.
Furthermore, the ocean’s acidification can limit the smelling cues of some fishes. This affects their direction to their suitable habitat or their predators. It can divert their energy away from some survival tasks which many species have.
Meanwhile, the indirect effects include the loss of the habitat of the fish. It can also change the abundance of predator populations and change food availability,
Indeed, the direct and indirect impacts could all lead to fishes being unable to survive. This can result in population-level consequences and cause a huge effect throughout the entire marine ecosystem.
Failure in the Pacific Oyster Farms
Since 2005, shellfish farmers have already experienced the harmful effects of ocean acidification. Oyster larvae have been increasing and affecting shellfish. This is because of the increasing acidic condition along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Studies show that the disaster has led to more than 100 million dollar losses on the West Coast.
Increasing ocean acidity has also affected mussels, mollusks, clams, and scallops. These animals all create calcium carbonate shells, which help them protect their bodies from predators. It also protects them from diseases and the harsh weather conditions of the oceans.
Mollusks build their shells from a highly soluble type of calcium carbonate. Studies found out that there has been a decline in the shell growth rate due to ocean acidification until the end of this century. With the slow shell growth, it can reduce the ability of the mollusks to survive. Thus, it can affect commercial fishing.
Decrease Growth of the Corals
Coral reefs are important in the coastal communities and our nation. Through the years, coral reefs have also shown signs of decline because of ocean acidification. In the Great Barrier Reef, one can find that there is a 14% reduction in skeletal growth since the 1990s. In the last 400 years, this is considered the largest decrease in the growth rate.
In the middle up to the end of this century, the decline in the coral reef growth rate can due to mass die-off.
Meanwhile, around 500 million people around the world depend on the reefs for coastal protection. They also depend on it for their source of food and income.
According to economists, goods from the reefs are around 30 to 172 billion dollars each year. Healthy reefs provide services and goods to the community. This includes fisheries, tourism, coastal protection, education, and even aesthetic values.
In Hawaii, coral reefs help generate 364 million dollars of income because of tourism. If the reefs collapse because of the increasing global warming and acidity, coastal communities will suffer from these impacts.
The 30 million people who depend solely on coral reef ecosystems can suffer serious health effects. Indeed, the decline in the coral reefs can be felt from the smallest to largest communities. The national and global economy can be greatly affected.
Decrease Number of Fishes
There are around four thousand fish species that depend on the coral reefs for habitat. Fish species like butterflyfish feed only on the coral reefs. Other fish species depend on the reefs for shelter and nurseries. Because of the loss of coral reefs, it can also lead to the loss of fishes because of the unavailability of their habitat.
Coral die-offs, because of bleaching events, are one example of the relationship between corals and fish. Indeed, the reefs are the fishes’ habitats. Because of the bleaching event in Papua New Guinea, 75% of the fishes that live on the reefs died. Furthermore, several fish species have become extinct.
These examples will provide us all with a clue of what might happen in the future. Unfortunately, coral reefs begin to disappear because of the increasing acidity of the ocean.
Death of the Sea Turtles
The sea turtles are one of the most endangered marine animals found feeding and resting in the coral reefs. They are fond of eating on the reef species. Examples of these are mollusks, sponges, soft corals, and algae.
The decline in the coral reefs can impact turtle feeding behaviors. It can even lead them to eat less nutritious food. Worse, they could go hungry and die.
The turtle’s ability to dig a nest and incubate their eggs successfully is connected with finding a healthy coral reef. These activities are all connected to the amount and type of sand found on the nesting beaches.
Beach sand near the coral reefs is made of the skeletal remains of the animals and plants that live on the reef. It also includes the decayed parts of the reefs themselves. As the oceans become acidic, reef species will decrease. This can result in changes in the amount and type of sand that reach the beaches.
Changes in the sand and nesting beaches can negatively affect the sea turtles’ ability to produce new hatchlings. This can reduce the population size of these endangered marine species.
In sum, because of our activities, it has affected the oceans. It forced marine species to live in unusual scenarios that have not existed for the past million years. Currently, we still don’t know the full extent of how human activities affect marine life. However, we do know that this has forced some species to go extinct.
In time, these species will become less diverse and vibrant. The undesirable species will become the winners in the end. This is true because there is a decline in direct competition, and predators will now dominate.
For some species, they can increase their growth rate, plus carbon dioxide will be abundant.
But the big problem is, this type of marine ecosystem does not reflect a healthy ocean. This reflects an overall decline in marine biodiversity. It can signify an ocean that is out of balance.
When we talk about the ocean perspective, ocean acidification is never a good thing. The result of this phenomenon can impact all types of marine life.
Studies show that species will negatively give rise to acidity as it decreases calcification. In some ways, it can increase shell growth and muscle mass.
Non-calcifiers have also shown responses that will decrease their ability to survive an acidic environment in the future. As it directly impacts various important food providers and habitats, the increasing acidity can change the whole ocean ecosystem. It can even lead to the collapse of the food webs.
Indeed, ocean acidification is changing the conditions upon which marine species have adapted for the past million years. It threatens to push the species to conditions which they can fail to adopt beyond their survival limits.
Some species are challenged with the current marine condition. However, what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. If ocean acidification continues, other species will be pushed to the edge.
It will force millions of people to find new homes, new food sources, and sources of income with ocean acidification. The most vulnerable communities around the world will find it hard to find alternatives. Sometimes, they don’t have anything to make up for the loss of marine services and goods.
As one adapts to these losses, it will spend huge resources from the national and global community. In some cases, adaptation is not even possible.
Thus, a smarter future involves reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We must learn to transition to renewable and cleaner sources of energy. Meanwhile, transitioning to new energy in our economy is not just the best solution. It is also considered a cost-effective method to go forward and protect the oceans.
This transition will not be easy, but with current and emerging alternative technologies and improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, it is possible. And for the sake of the oceans and ourselves, it is a necessity.