The environment is the place where we live, but we have treated it with the sparsest regard. Now, we are living in a time of reckoning that is paying us – humans – back in spades.
There are so many resultant issues that our scientists, researchers and top professionals are contending with and working towards fixes. These consequences are not only affecting our daily lives but the lives of animals everywhere.
From the polar bears in the Arctic to the mollusks and other crustaceans in the deep blue sea – all are dealing with the ill effects of climate change, greenhouse gases, and pollution. And one of those under-discussed issues is ocean acidification.
“Ecosystems are defined by a complex suite of interactions among organisms and also between organisms and their physical environment; a disturbance to any part may lead to cascading effects throughout the system. Ocean acidification has the potential to disturb marine ecosystems through a variety of pathways.”
What is Ocean Acidification?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, this is the “refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.”
1. Carbon Dioxide Levels
The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air is greater than before for 200 years or more, because of the industrial revolution. It is a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels as well as the change in how we allocate and use our lands.
The deep-sea takes in approximately thirty percent of the CO2 out in the environment.
As a result, when the CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere so too does the amount of CO2 found in the sea. A sequence of compound reactions takes place from the amplified levels of hydrogen ions, because of the CO2 sucked up by seawater. This amplification then attributes to the ocean becoming increasingly acidic and attributes to the reduction of carbonate ions.
2. Carbonate Ions and the Calcifying Process
One of the significant building blocks of the formation of seashells and coral skeletons is carbonate ions.
Therefore, when there are fewer carbonate ions in the water, then it prevents the formation of these shells. Also, existing shells cannot maintain their integrity.
Plus, additional any other structure that requires calcium carbonate will have difficulty in the calcifying process. This includes calcareous plankton, deep-sea corals, shallow water coral, sea urchins, clams, and oysters.
3. Increased Risks to Other Organisms
The problems now occurring with the changing ocean chemistry is not only limited to calcifying organisms. Others can be affected as well. For example, some fishes will find it increasingly difficult to sense the presence of predators in acidic waters. If their existence is jeopardized, then a chain reaction ensues and the whole food web could possibly be at risk.
Reasons for Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification is upsetting the whole world’s marine life, as well as those found in waterways and coastal estuaries
This is a substantially catastrophic dilemma because a lot of nations or economies rely on seafood. As it relates to our diets, seafood is a major contributor to our protein intake.
So, what are the reasons why ocean acidification is a threat to the marine food chain?
1. Burning Fossil Fuels
Even though this is not a direct contributor, as the others, it still is a major reason why the atmospheric conditions are changing for the worse.
When burnt, fuels such as coal, diesel, and petroleum generate high levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. As a result, the concentration of carbon gas is absorbed by the water. This also continues to spread when other atmospheric gases and carbon spread to other bodies of water through acidic rainfalls.
You will find that countries that have greater industrial and manufacturing activities also have higher levels of pollution. This obviously affects the quality of the air, sea, and land in that region.
Because of the greater amounts of fossil fuel burnt or used, it then also signifies a greater level of a carbon dioxide concentration in the air. As highlighted previously, this is taken in by the surrounding water bodies like seas and oceans. The acidity levels increases.
Manufacturing plants and other such companies add to the release of hazardous gases. These include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide along with numerous other types of gases and liquids that contribute to the development of acid rain. And they also produce acidic conditions, when they liquefy in the oceans.
It has been found that from the time humans began using more industrial means for energy, “the average pH of the ocean has been found to have fallen from 8.2 to 8.1.” even though this may seem as a minor increment, it directly correlates to an amplification of acidity levels by 26%.
3. Increased Concentration of Hydrogen Ions in the Water
Generally, the quality of seawater is affected by any reaction that occurs at the seabed level. So, if chemicals are affected by the increased carbon in the water, then obviously the ocean will be affected too.
One of these reactions is the higher levels of hydrogen ions. When this is mixed in with the other gases like nitrogen, plus the seawater, then the acidity levels of the seawater increases.
4. Increased Concentration of Carbon IV in the Atmosphere
On occasion, the dangers released in the air get into our seas and oceans as well.
Human activities are the principal reason why the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. So, when the CO2 sullies our water sources it adds to the ocean acidification. Since the carbon gases are broken down in seawater, the PH levels are lowered and marine life that depends on it being a particular level are negatively affected.
5. Increased Concentration of Carbon IV Oxide in the Sea
As soon as there are rising levels of carbon dioxide gas in the sea, the entire marine ecosystem is affected.
Coral reefs are actually formed when sea organisms pass away and pile up on the seabeds. This coral then has the carbon that was previously in the living creatures. Furthermore, they discharge calcium in the sea.
These then affect the composition of the water and cause extensive harmful effects, because of the acidity that is created.
6. Improper Land Management
Farming can add to the ocean acidity problem. It can take place particularly if the techniques used by gardeners and farmers alike are not appropriate.
Some strategies used to grow crops, cause or are susceptible to greater levels of soil erosion. When this happens, the chemicals that are used in fertilizers and other chemicals added to the soil, are filtered into the sea.
So when our land practices are not correctly managed, the ocean is affected by the water pollution and acidifying soil mineral content.
7. Disposal of Waste
Every country finds this a great challenge. This is especially because of increased populations and as such, increased waste and pollutants.
Industrial waste and other garbage are dumped directly and indirectly into the ocean – whether by flooded waterways, canals, and rivers or via ships and other sea-going vessels. However, as the environment bears the impact of poisonous gases, the oceans and seas across the world are absorbing and dealing with hazardous wastes.
Together with sewage waste being directly released into the sea, additional harmful liquids are also disposed in the ocean and add to the rising acidity levels in the water
For instance, agricultural and manufacturing wastes contain acidic compounds. This is especially harmful because they diminish the seawater’s PH levels.
How to Limit Ocean Acidification
With the many ill effects of ocean acidification, we must work quickly to limit the effects and prevent further damage. To do so there are a number of strategies, which can be employed.
- Stringent and applicable regulations – We need ratification of legislation that will guarantee proper waste disposal.
- Civil education – The general populace needs to be sensitized through strategic and continuous government and private organizations, funded programs.
- Eating only certain seafood – Consuming certain marine food will minimize the likelihood of food poisoning.
- Limiting the use of carbon-oriented energy – Because humans add a great amount of carbon to the environment, we then have the power to change what we use as energy sources. More renewable sources should be developed and utilized negating the necessity for carbon-oriented energy sources.
- Utilize substitute water supply – Individual homes can make use of tapped rainwater, wells or boreholes for domestic use.
A diplomat from Fiji, Peter Thomson, who is also a UN ambassador for the oceans, encouraged more “people to think of the oceans in the same terms as they do the climate.”
He mentioned, “We are all aware of climate change, but we need to talk more about ocean change, and the effects of acidification, warming, plastic pollution, dead zones and so on. The world must know that we have a plan to save the ocean. What is required over the next three years is concerted action.”