Posted by: reefrescue | December 1, 2009

Ocean acidification will cost us dearly

An essay by Andrew Sharpless CEO of Oceana

Enjoy serving shrimp, oysters or crabs during your holiday meals? Then you should pay heed to the big climate change meeting coming up in Copenhagen. What nations decide there could determine if our ocean will continue providing tasty shellfish – or instead become part of a perilous chemistry experiment that could ravage valuable fisheries and coral reefs.

The problem, strange as it may seem, is that the ocean is doing a wonderful job of slowing down global warming. Every day, it removes nearly 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – the main warming gas – from the atmosphere. That’s nearly twice what U.S. power plants, cars and factories spew daily into the sky. So we owe the ocean a big thanks for putting a brake on climate change and giving us time to find solutions.

Unfortunately, that help comes at a steep price. When carbon dioxide in the air mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction creates a compound called carbonic acid – the same stuff that gives champagne its acidic zing. In the ocean, however, “acidification” is bad news for shellfish and corals. That’s because as acidification increases – and it is increasing rapidly – the process locks up the carbonate molecules these creatures need to build their shells and stony skeletons. It would be as if you started building a house, and then discovered that someone had locked away your bricks. Imagine trying to survive without reliable shelter or a full skeleton.

One of the first victims of acidification, however, will be the world’s hard corals. Tiny coral polyps build their monumental, dazzling reefs by manufacturing tons of limestone. But the corals won’t be able to keep up their masonry if acidification continues. In fact, several studies have concluded that if emissions aren’t curbed, virtually all warm-water reefs could stop growing and start crumbling to rubble by the middle to end of this century. Among the potential U.S. casualties: reefs off Hawaii, Florida and the Gulf Coast that serve as backbones for some of the planet’s richest habitats. And if the reefs go, so could iconic species that are part of America’s cultural – and culinary – heritage, such as snapper, grouper and spiny lobster.

Such losses would have enormous social and economic consequences. Reefs support tourism and global fisheries worth billions of dollars annually, and more than 100 million people rely on them for their food and livelihood.


Andrew Sharpless is CEO of Oceana, an international ocean conservation group. Readers may write to him at: 1350 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20036; Web site:

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

Link to complete text:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: