The silent killer of our oceans: everything you need to know about ocean acidification

For thousands and thousands of years, oceans have been a critical part of people’s lives. The oceans have been our grocery stores, highways, pharmacies, and source of entertainment.

Due to our ocean’s vastness, we see them as infinitely bountiful, infinitely abundant, infinitely ample. Now, more than ever we are seeing beaches that are so polluted people can’t swim. We are seeing an increase in bleached coral reefs. We are seeing shellfish unable to reproduce. We are seeing massively overfished areas.

Ocean acidification, osteoporosis of the sea, the silent killer of our oceans. Whatever your preference it all means the same thing. Over the last 250 years, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has made an unbelievable increase from 280 parts per million to 390 parts per million. That’s a 30 percent increase. Half of which was made between 1980 and today. To most people, this just seems like numbers, but when you realize that in the past, humans have only lived in concentrations of 190-330 it is easier to comprehend the problem at hand.

Plant-A-Tree's

Illustrations by: Lucie Brunellière are available here

In long-term ocean acidification is likely to have the most significant impact on the coral reef ecosystems. Marine organisms that provide up to 50 percent of the oxygen that we breathe, such as Plankton and other small organisms, are abundant in coral reefs and will decrease dramatically. These small organisms not only affect us but other marine organisms as well. With pH levels dropping at this rate, current estimates reveal that we will lose 50 percent of our coral reefs over the next 40 years. That means that the quarter of marine species that rely on coral reefs to provide them home will face extinction unless able to adapt. At a pH level of 8.2, our seas are already acidic enough to dissolve shells. This is evident due to the 85 percent of oyster reefs gone because of the acidification of our oceans.

Not only does it threaten 25 percent of marine organisms, but ocean acidification also affects the estimated 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for their daily food and income. Finding jobs, I’m sure you all know, is hard enough in this economy, nonetheless it will become harder. Travel agencies workers, fishers, ecologists, chefs, food manufacturers and marine biologists will all be affected by ocean acidification. Areas such as Cairns, Australia, will no longer be generating over 6.5 billion dollars in tourism revenue due to the death of the Great Barrier Reef. As a result, 63,000 people would lose jobs in the area.

Although research is underway to improve the conditions of our oceans, not much is being done at the local or global level. Seeing that this is a reasonably recently discovered problem, scientists are still researching ocean acidification and its effects on the environment. Even so, scientific research has already saved species such as the Pacific Oyster from extinction.

Scientists do know one thing: irreversible damage will occur around 2060. Even if all carbon emissions stopped today, the pH of the ocean would still drop 0.1-0.2 pH units and it would take thousands of years for the world’s oceans to recover. Nonetheless, that is still better than the 0.5 units the pH was expected to fall by 2100, a 320 percent increase in acidity.

Our highways, our entertainment, our medicines. Our food, our stress reliever, our memories. Our expansion, our destruction, our mess. Ocean acidification will be a problem for centuries to come. Environmental problems have become apart of our society. Although some are discussed until the point of no longer caring, others are worth listening to.

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