Anyone paying attention at all these days has heard of global warming or climate change. It’s a big deal to some, complete nonsense to those who don’t believe in it. Climate change is only a part of the problem, however. Ocean acidification is a related problem, and quite serious. So what is it? Why does it matter?
Ocean acidification is the result of the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide. It does this normally, but as the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases, so does the rate at which the ocean absorbs it. This is not a good thing overall, although photosynthetic algae and sea grasses may do better.
But shelled sea life suffers tremendously. More acidic sea water slowly dissolves their shells. This can impact the entire food chain, as many creatures eat shelled sea life, and of course many people do as well. Ocean acidification may result in the failure and erosion of coral reefs as well, with all that implies for the creatures which have evolved to live in them, whether or not they have a shell.
The plastic pollution in the ocean also increases the acidity.
It often amazes me how little ocean acidification is discussed when people talk about carbon emissions. It’s one of the most important impacts to consider. The oceans are big, but there’s only so much they can take, and this is something we can measure. The current increase in acidity is 30%, with the potential for the ocean to become more acidic than it has been in 20 million years.
A billion people worldwide rely on the ocean as a source of protein. It’s not a small matter to find a replacement for that. The impact of acidification may have been seen already in the Pacific coast regions of North America, where shellfish beds have been failing. The pteropods which are a basic food source for many fish and whales are decreasing in number. This isn’t just a guess. We can see it happening.