The Ocean

An Alarming Update: Coral Reefs and Ocean Acidification

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Unless we change the way we live, coral reefs and their inhabitants will be utterly destroyed due to ocean acidification and an increase in temperature.

Expert panelists at a session of the Society of Environmental Journalists conference addressed these issues on Saturday morning.

Coral skeletons, constructed of calcium carbonate, form the essential habitat that supports the world’s most bio-diverse marine ecosystems, Andrew Baker, associate professor of marine biology and fisheries at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami, explained.

“Carbon dioxide leads to ocean acidification and acts as a greenhouse gas, causing the oceans to heat up,” Baker said.

This transmitted carbon dioxide makes it more difficult for corals to calcify and build their skeletons. It also causes a climate change, which results in reef-building coral losing their algae.

“If a reef-building coral loses its algae, it will bleach and die,” Baker stated.

James Fahn

Many marine organisms are also affected by this acidification and climate change, Jacqueline Savitz, senior scientist and senior campaign director of Oceana, said.

One major victim is the terapod, whose shells begin to dissolve when oceans acidify.

Cod, mackerel and herring all consume terapods. Juvenile pink salmon receive half of their diet from terapods. Resident killer whales obtain 90 percent of diet from salmon, Savitz explained.  The deficit of one organism, such as the dwindling terapods, will affect the whole food chain.

“We know that overfishing is a major issue. We know habitat destruction is a major issue.  We know that sediment and nutrient pollution are major issues,” Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated.

“We are already seeing the climate change effects causing bleaching over and over of coral reefs,” Eakin continued. “We are heading towards a place where those corals are going to be growing more slowly and the reefs aren’t going to be cementing together. Do we really want to get that far?”

Savitz described a necessary plan of action, which consists of stopping the use of fossil fuels, resulting in the reduction of carbon dioxide by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. She also suggested alternative energy sources.

“Offshore wind can provide enough energy to basically power the whole country if done right,” Savitz explained. “We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and support clean energy jobs.”


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