Growing Acid in our Oceans: A Looming Threat to Sea Life
This picture is a picture of the beautiful Monterey, California coastline. This is where I grew up. It is famous for it’s beautiful sea life. Sea otters, jelly fish, sea lions, kelp forests all populate the Monterey coast. The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. Yet, with all that mass of water, we humans are changing the chemical properties. The acid levels in the pacific ocean, as well as every ocean around the world, are rising. If things keep going this beautiful coastline, my home, will become a wasteland of acid. Habitable to only the most extremophiles.
Rewind our story. Fossil fuels are not just a problem for our atmosphere. When we burn fossil fuels carbon dioxide falls down into the sea. The carbon dioxide is quickly converted into carbonic acid. Carbonic acid has been known to be corrosive to corals and shellfish, and now scientists are discovering that rising acid levels in the ocean are effecting other animals as well.
At least one-third of the carbon dioxide we produce falls into the ocean. By the end of the century it is projected that the acidity level of the ocean will increase 3 fold. A change in acidity levels puts an added amount of stress on marine life. The animals must actively pump acid out of their cells to maintain cell pH. This costs energy. Energy that would otherwise be used for growing and reproduction.
“The quantity of carbon dioxide we’ve put in the ocean is now well over 500 billion tons” – Peter Brewer, Marine Biologist
Fast forward. For years scientists have been sounding the alarms on the negative effects of greenhouse gasses, but Peter Brewer does not believe that is enough for the scientific community. Brewer is currently conducting research on how to solve some of the problems of raising acidity on marine life.
“It’s going to be very hard to maintain this number of people on the planet and not have these problems. It worries me that scientists sound the alarm but don’t come up with solutions. We’re going to have to try.” – Peter Brewer, Marine Biologist
In my time doing marine biology, I have seen first hand some of the negative effects humans have had on our oceans. We can, and should, sound the alarms that this is causing a problem. Some environmentalists believe that this problem can just go away if we all change. That is unrealistic barring a catastrophe that kills off a few billion people. The problem is that there are just too many people. That cannot be fixed anytime in the near future. That does not mean we are helpless. It is up to all of us to actively do our own part individually to lower our carbon footprint. That can at least slow the rate of damage we are causing while the scientific community comes up with solutions to the problem.
Image Credit: slworking2 on Flickr