Ocean Acidification: It’s Here and It’s Real

Donning our snorkel gear, my son and I entered the tranquil bay. We’d been looking forward to spring break in Baja Mexico and had read about this spot in the guide book. But we were soon disappointed; there were few fish to see and most of the coral was damaged or dead. The unsuspecting tourist might not notice but as a trained marine biologist I know what a healthy reef looks like. This wasn’t it.

Coral reefs are under assault. Overfishing and coastal development are partly to blame, but ocean acidification is an emerging threat to corals and a host of other species that rely on calcium carbonate for their shells. As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, it dissolves in the ocean and it is changing the very chemistry of the sea.

And it’s happening now. Just this month, a team of scientists published a study that solved the mystery of why the $278 million shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly went bankrupt in 2006. Owners of the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the Oregon coast wanted to know why all their baby oysters were dying. Scientists determined it was ocean acidification. Whiskey Creek is now fighting back against ocean acidification by changing how they raise oysters to avoid the highly corrosive seawater that is now bathing the Oregon coast.

Ocean acidification could do far more than just take oysters off the menu at your favorite happy hour; it may upend the world’s ocean – from the shallows to the deep – and the industries that depend on it, from seafood to tourism. Don’t take my word for it; watch the video above to hear from leading international scientists gravely concerned with this problem.

So what do we do? First, we need to better understand what is happening to our ocean. The X-Prize Foundation just announced a competition to develop new, cost effective instruments to gauge ocean acidification. But we need more: Industries dependent on a healthy ocean must lend their voice to a growing community of concerned environmental and business leaders. Decision makers need to better use existing laws to reduce other factors (like runoff from the land) that make ocean acidification worse.

Ocean Conservancy is working with leading organizations to confront ocean acidification head on. Over the coming months, we’ll profile this critical issue and our colleagues’ great work to ensure a healthy and vibrant ocean for all of us, snorkelers and shellfish farmers alike.

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  1. On the climate change subject, ocean acidification almost never comes to light, I believe that most people have no idea of what is happening “under the sea”…
    I’m glad to see your good work ;)

  2. I hate it when I meet divers who don’t believe in climate change, even when the evidence is there on the reef in front of them!

  3. After 30 years of diving both coastal waters and the Caribbean I have seen huge changes in the oceans. Why is it people continually want to deny something that is right in front of their noses??? They must work for the government!!!

  4. I’m glad Ocean Conservancy is staying on top of this issue in many respects. I’ll continue to support your organization. : ]

  5. Thank you for keeping us informed. I sincerely appreciate it. I am an environmental science major and need to stay informed of such issues.

  6. this issue is of prime importance. I teach Marine Biology and this has become a real scientific issue in just a few short years. Our country and all countries should stop everything and consider the ramifications of this problem. Get the news out. This is a huge problem, not only for the coral reefs but for much of the plankton that feeds everything in the ocean.

  7. You’re right on Bonnie, let’s start disseminating these facts to every high school science class and ask for teacher involvement. We need our young people to carry this forward.Our representatives in Washington are breathing ether and unaware that there is water on our planet.

  8. The defunding of the NOP was for really good reasons. Though the idea sounds good on face value, the lack of accountability and failure to properly provide any funding direction in itself is reason to put the brakes on. Their is an unweilding amount of power given to the committee of this policy with little accountability or oversight. There also is what ammounts to a set of responsabilities assigned that already belong to other government agencies, which basically means we get to pay for it twice! The fact that Obama had to sneak it in through a back door approach (executive order) tells you it had issues even his party would not sign off on, as they did in a bipartisain manner with its defunding! As to fishermen taking the lead on matters reguarding their fisheries….They are the ones calling for NOAA to stop its foolish Market Based Catch Share sppending, and to start funding science based data collection as priority. Fishermen are also the ones calling for legislation to MANDATE Science Based data in fishery management….this is something that certain ENGO’s OPPOSE. EDF, Pew and a few other prominate ENGO’s OPPOSE mandating reliable science in US fishery management. How about that, fishermen are promoting conservation measures…..and a few prominate enviormental groups are opposed!

  9. Ocean acidification is kind of like Global Warming’s little kid brother who may grow up to be a psyco-mass murderer.  Both issues need dire attention and are both a simple result of the human use (or misuse) of carbon.
    In yesterday’s New York Time, James Hansen , director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies stated that if Canada proceeds with its planned exploitation the oil in its vast tar sands reserves… “it will be game over for the climate”.  He states that tar sands contain enough carbon to increase the carbon concentration in our atmosphere by 50% over today’s levels in a matter of a few decades. Are who will absorb much of that carbon?  Mother Ocean.  Happy Mother’s Day

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  13. Hi former officemate George! So. Every scientists I know thinks the paper wrongly refers to the upwelling (likely natural) that caused this observed drop in pH as “acidification”.  Also, I think the paper has been widely misinterpreted as evidence OF climate change. In reality, and I think the authors are pretty clear about this, it is an analogue of what climate change could/would do.  Thoughts?  johnfbruno 

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