Ocean Acidification: The Climate Change Disaster You Didn’t Know Existed

Takepart.comAugust 6, 2012

This is a good news, bad news, more bad news story—with a hopeful ending. This past week The New York Times reported, “A combination of warm weather and good conservation techniques has led to what could end up being a record lobster harvest across Maine waters.”

While that sounds like decent news, it’s actually not if you’re a fisherman. “A relatively warm winter prompted soft-shell lobsters to appear in June, about a month early, and their abundance turned into an overabundance. That caused a huge backup in the sea-to-table supply chain. And for the fishermen, the law of supply and demand has forced the price down to a 40-year low . . . For some lobstermen, the basement prices barely cover the costs of going out, forcing some to work round the clock so they can make up in volume what they lose in price.”

To turn this whole situation on its head, the fishermens’ world could get worse in a way many of them may not yet have anticipated. And that leads us to the more bad news part of our tale.

MORE: Ocean Acidification: Kardashians Get 40 Times More Coverage Than This Threat

Ocean acidification caused by climate change is making it harder for creatures from clams to sea urchins to grow their shells, and the trend is likely to be felt most in polar regions,” Reuters reported.

“A thinning of the protective cases of mussels, oysters, lobsters and crabs is likely to disrupt marine food chains by making the creatures more vulnerable to predators, which could reduce human sources of seafood. ‘The results suggest that increased acidity is affecting the size and weight of shells and skeletons, and the trend is widespread across marine species,’ the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said in a statement of the findings.”

What is ocean acidification? The Natural Resources Defense Council provides an explanation:

“Earth’s atmosphere isn’t the only victim of burning fossil fuels. About a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the earth’s oceans, where they’re having an impact that’s just starting to be understood. Over the last decade, scientists have discovered that this excess CO2 is actually changing the chemistry of the sea and proving harmful for many forms of marine life. This process is known as ocean acidification. A more acidic ocean could wipe out species, disrupt the food web and impact fishing, tourism and any other human endeavor that relies on the sea. The change is happening fast—and it will take fast action to slow or stop it.”

The European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA) seconded this notion, saying, “The magnitude of ocean acidification can be predicted with a high level of confidence since the ocean chemistry is well known. But the impacts of the acidification on marine organisms and their ecosystems is much less predictable. Not only calcifying organisms are potentially affected by ocean acidification. Other main physiological processes such as reproduction, growth and photosynthesis are susceptible to be impacted, possibly resulting in an important loss in marine biodiversity.”

So I suppose it’s a good thing that “The Third Symposium on The Ocean in a High-CO2 World” is being held in Monterey, California from September 24 to 27. “The symposium aims to attract more than 300 of the world’s leading scientists to discuss the impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms, ecosystems, and biogeochemical cycles.”

Let’s all cross our fingers and wish them good luck.

Do you think ocean acidification is an urgent issue that should be given more attention?

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Deaf Fish? An Ocean Acidification Update

Climate Change Fallout: Genetically Inferior Hybrid Grizzly-Polar Bears

Ocean Kill-Free Zones: 6 of the Biggest Marine Reserves

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com