Ocean acidification takes place when increased levels of carbon dioxide in marine waters makes the water more acidic than normal. People tend to think of “climate change” as simply a synonym for “global warming, because climate change includes global warming, and because the most prominent political debates concern global warming. However, ocean acidification is part of the overall climate change that’s taking place as a result of human industrialization of the planet. Just as global warming is caused by carbon dioxide emissions, so is ocean acidification.
The most commonly known ecological impact of ocean acidification is reduction in the growth of shells and skeletons of animals living in the ocean. Animals like diatoms, shellfish and corals use carbon from the water around them to construct the hard parts of their bodies, and that process is hampered when the water is more acidic.
Recent research indicates that ocean acidification can also interfere with animals’ neurological processes, leaving them less able to engage in intelligent reactions to the stimulus around them. Clownfish in waters with increased acidity, for example, were found to wander away from their protective anemones more often, making them more vulnerable to predation.
Another new study, conducted by scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has found that ocean acidification isn’t only being produced by atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. Massive amounts of algae bloom and die quickly, associated with runoff pollution carried to the oceans by rivers, create what are called “dead zones” – areas that have practically no animal life within them because there is almost no oxygen in the water. The NOAA scientists found that these dead zones are also a significant source of carbon dioxide in the water, adding to ocean acidification.
Oceana has also released a report, based on an analysis of the likely impact of ocean acidification on the economies of the nations of the Earth. Not surprisingly, it’s the world’s island nations that are likely to suffer most. Of the ten nations most vulnerable to the effect of ocean acidification, only two are continental nations. This top 10 list reads:
1. Cook Islands
2. New Caledonia
3. Turks and Caicos Islands
7. Faroe Islands