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The Trouble with Ocean Acidification

June 21, 2011

Millions of tiny polyp organisms together living in a calcium carbonate structure.

Ocean acidification creates plenty of potential problems for life in the oceans, but corals might have it the worst.

via Ocean Acidification and the Battle Between Coral and Seaweed.

Why are the oceans becoming more acidic? The ocean is the largest carbon dioxide sink. Atmospheric CO2 gets dissolved into the ocean where it forms carbonic acid and carbonate ions. Because humans are putting unnaturally high amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, more of it is dissolving into the oceans speeding up this natural process, and causing an increase in the acidity of ocean waters.

Why is ocean acidification bad? Acidic waters mean for a harder time for marine life—especially animals with shells such as sea snails or for organisms such as corals. Corals are actually communities of polyp organisms (related to jellyfish) that secrete calcium carbonate to form hard encasings. These organisms are extremely sensitive to their surrounding environments, and at lower pH levels, when the acidity is higher, the process these organisms need to effectively create their calcium carbonate shells slows down severely. Scientists say that this will give seaweed an advantage over coral reefs in the upcoming decades. In research scenarios where atmospheric CO2 levels matched those of late 21st century estimates, no corals grew at all.

New research is concluding that acidification affects other marine life as well. Clown fish, our beloved Nemo, have been observed to lose their hearing ability in waters with a slightly lower pH. Find out more in this article.

Hearing Nemo.

But wait, there’s more: Washington State’s coastal waters are already being affected by ocean acidification. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, juvenile oysters along the WA coast have been impacted as well as other shellfish in the area. View CBD’s press release here.

What is the solution to ocean acidification? Minimize your carbon footprint by using less energy. But how?

  • Drive less. Walk. Bike. Take public transit. Carpool.
  • Get a fuel efficient car.
  • Fly less. Airplanes spew out wicked amounts of carbon dioxide—estimated around 2 tons per person.
  • Buy locally made products. Less shipping needed.
  • Buy locally grown food. Less shipping needed AND less packaging required.
  • Reduce the amount you buy. Less energy/CO2 needed to produce crap for you that you’ll eventually just throw away.
  • Reuse items before recycling or tossing out—less energy needed to recycle materials.
  • Recycle items before buying new ones—less energy needed to make new things when you could just make things out of recycled materials. Become a thrift store shopper
  • UNPLUG your electric fixtures while not in use. For example, your phone charger, TV, radio, lamps, fans, hair straighteners and toaster ovens. Appliances suck electricity even when not in use.
  • This summer, keep your thermostat no lower than 78 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy and save money!
  • Take colder showers (this sucks, but it’ll get you taking shorter showers so it’s a double whammy). Install a tankless water heater.
  • Use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in your home.
  • Properly insulate your home to avoid heat loss during the winter and keep it cool in the summer.
But these are just a few! Use a Carbon Footprint Calculator to see what ways you need to improve your own energy saving. Most importantly—don’t be frightened by change. In this case saving energy means lower electric bills which means more money for you! Who doesn’t want that?





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