Ocean acidification is a major issue that threatens our ocean and way of life. It’s even been dubbed the “evil twin” of climate change. We now know more than ever about what causes ocean acidification, what its implications are, and how to prevent its worst repercussions, thanks to a growing body of research. Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD in ocean chemistry to grasp the problem, or to learn what you can do to help!

What Is It?

The chemical process of ocean acidification alters the properties of saltwater. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with water molecules to form carbonic acid, which subsequently decomposes into hydrogen ions, bicarbonate ions, and carbonate ions. These chemical reactions make sea water more acidic by lowering its pH (a measurement of hydrogen ion concentration in water). The ocean, which is a natural element of the global carbon cycle, is the world’s greatest carbon sink. When humans add considerable amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, this process quickly becomes unbalanced. As a result, the world’s oceans are becoming increasingly acidic.

Ocean Acidification And Climate Change

When people hear the term “ocean acidification,” the first thing that comes to mind is usually “climate change.” There is no denying that the shifting carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere have an impact on both of them. The ocean is a significant carbon sink, absorbing nearly a third of the world’s CO2 emissions. The breakdown of CO2 in water can make it more acidic, despite the fact that it serves to reduce the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere. Ocean acidification is frequently portrayed as a symptom of climate change rather than a persistent and serious danger to marine ecosystems. Despite scientists’ warnings about its dire consequences, ocean acidification has received little attention in governments’ political agendas around the world.

Why Does It Matter? 

Plants and animals that are vital to marine ecosystems and human civilization are threatened by ocean acidification. Calcium carbonate molecules — the minerals that make up the skeletons and shells of creatures like corals, oysters, sea urchins, and crabs – disintegrate more quickly when the water acidifies. This makes it more difficult for these species to survive, makes them more vulnerable to predators, inhibits their growth, and jeopardizes their population’s health. Ocean acidification can harm organisms without shells, such as zooplankton, which is the foundation of many marine food webs, and fish species that use chemical senses to avoid predators.

The impacts of ocean acidification can endanger the balance or existence of ecosystems, disrupt food webs, and put in motion further disturbance of the world’s natural carbon cycle, in addition to the numerous survival issues that animals in the water confront. Coral reef populations, for example, are threatened by both ocean acidification and coral bleaching. When corals are disturbed by changes in environmental factors such as temperature, pollution, nutrient availability, and more, they expel zooxanthellae algae from their tissues. This process leaves a fragile, white skeleton behind, which, when paired with hurdles to grow hard skeletons, raises the likelihood of death and jeopardizes reef resiliency.

What Does This Mean For Other Marine Organisms That Depend On Corals? 

Coral reefs, for example, are biodiversity hotspots. In Hawaiian tradition, a coral is regarded as a god (known locally as akua), and the source of all life. Coral reefs are one of the ocean’s nurseries, and they are correct. Humans benefit from coral ecosystem services such as food, flood protection, cultural and spiritual value, and tourism. Without corals, the food webs would change, changing the ecosystem’s structure and function, fisheries would fail, storm protection would be lost, and we would never be able to enjoy the spectacular coral reefs full of life while diving or snorkeling. Other carbonate-dependent marine organisms, other from corals, may experience similar consequences as a result of ocean acidification.

Why Does Ocean Acidification Not Feel Like A Top Priority? 

According to a study, there is a lack of public interest, which can result in low levels of activity. Second, it’s possible that this is due to the fact that ocean acidification appears to be a non-urgent concern. This is evident in the media’s lack of attention to this threat, which is the polar opposite of climate change or plastics. Finally, it appears that there are more ‘tangible’ actions for these risks than for ocean acidification.

Furthermore, the way the story of ocean acidification is told around the world has had a significant impact on public perception. How do we create a narrative that captures the public’s attention and motivates them to take action? How do we elicit emotional and moral involvement from them? These are definitely complex topics that must be addressed collaboratively by scientists from various natural and social sciences areas. Conservation biology, environmental psychology, law & policy, and communication & media are just a few examples.

What Can We Do About It?

This is a difficult topic to answer, and one that can be discouraging at times because there is no simple solution. Ocean acidification is a major issue that is directly linked to carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. First and foremost, despite how abstract it may sound, we must reflect on how insensitive we have become to nature and the ocean. What is preventing us from acting or altering our behavior? Second, another method to aid in the fight against ocean acidification is to educate ourselves and share this information with those we know.

Last but not least, lowering our carbon footprint is critical for slowing ocean acidification while also mitigating climate change. Reduced household carbon footprints and support for greener energy transitions are fantastic ways to contribute. Researchers have also discovered that marine plants such as kelp, seagrass, and mangroves can help to mitigate ocean acidification by capturing and storing carbon molecules in their roots, leaves, and stems, which are then buried in underwater sediment – and out of the atmosphere – for thousands of years! We can make progress toward a more balanced ocean by supporting the protection and restoration of ecosystems that include marine plants.