Other than having something to do with acid, acidification of the ocean is a poorly known – despite publicity in recent years – phenomena and an even more poorly understood one in the public eye.
But it is a very important one. Acidification of the ocean is one of the primary dangers threatening the global environment. It is a threat so huge that as we wait to see whether United States President Donald Trump will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, I am more and more coming around to the opinion that there needs to be a summit on ocean acidification and it needs to have the whole world on board.
But it needs to go further than a world wide talk fest and document writing spree.
The problem is that the pH scale which measures alkalinity and acidity is showing a sustained decline. It used to be 8.1, which is slightly alkalinic, but has now dropped to 8.0. This might seem minor and you might ask why the importance of this drop. The ph scale is logarithmic. So what that .1 really means is that there has been a 1000% or 10 fold increase in the acidity of the ocean.
What does it mean for marine life? The National Institute of Water and Atmospherics says that those life forms that rely on calcium carbonate shells for protection of their organs will find it increasingly difficult to maintain them as the acidity will act as a corrosive agent.
To me, in some respects this is a bigger threat to humans than climate change. The gases that are linked to climate change are still disputed in some quarters, in terms of how they are affecting the atmosphere. But the damage of acidification in the oceans is glaringly clear. You can see it in coral reefs, particularly in the Australian Great Barrier Reef, where the risk is growing that a bleaching event will cause irreversible damage to vast sections of the reef and may ultimately endanger it as a habitat.
In Australia the Great Barrier Reef is of vital importance to Queensland’s tourism industry. A survey commissioned recently showed that many Chinese tourists would not visit Australia at all if they could not see the Great Barrier Reef. Nationalities from other nations said they would visit, but would not go to Queensland. Such a reaction would potentially cost the sunshine state billions of dollars in lost revenue.
But there is more to the danger that acidification of the oceans poses than just to coral reefts. In effect, if one gives it long enough, it could collapse the entire marine ecosystem or at the least cause massive disruption to the food chain.
My point is simple: we can either ease up on the carbon emissions despite not being totally clear about the climate change aspect, or we can not only have potential climate change issues, but we will also have a marine ecosystem emergency. It is because of this potential double whammy that I am convinced, climate change or not, we need to act.