Ocean Acidification Reduction: Back to Basic
Identification of the Problem
Most marine creatures are facing the harsh consequences of ocean acidification. From the tiniest pteropoda that form the base of the food chain to the delicious oysters, clams, and mussels that are featured on restaurant menus around the world, the effects of ocean acidification are shockingly apparent and alarming. Marine creatures that form the base of the food chain, such as pteropoda (tiny swimming sea snails), have shells that are likely to be dissolved as the ocean continues to acidify. A decline in pteropods would have a significant impact on many marine species because they are the base of a massive oceanic food chain (Effects of Ocean, 1).
Do you love shellfish? Many varieties of shellfish such as oysters and clams are also affected by the increase in ocean acidification. An article from The Economist discussed that shellfish, such as oysters, whose shells are made from calcium carbonate are more easily dissolved in acidic water (A Shrinking Problem, 1). A study done by the University of California at Davis researched how oysters would grow in current seawater and seawater with twice the amount of normal CO2 (approximately what the oceans will be in 2100.) The oysters raised in the second tank grew to be 30-40% smaller than the oysters raised in current seawater (A Shrinking Problem, 1). If ocean acidification levels were to continue to rise, the delicious shellfish that millions of people love to eat could potentially disappear altogether in the near future.
Discussion of the Problem
The reason that ocean acidification is such a prevalent issue is that along with the harsh effects it has on the ocean and its pH levels, it also takes its toll on the natural beauty of the ocean, national and local economies, and seafood supply. As Marcia Creary discusses in her report in the UN Chronicle, “global concentrations of carbon dioxide have also shown increased levels from an average of 280 parts per million (ppm) at the beginning of the industrial revolution, to approximately 388 ppm at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (Creary, 1). The acidity in the oceans has increased by 30% since 1750, and is continuing to rise (Creary, 1). The oceans absorb a majority of the CO2 that is produced, which in turn alters the pH levels of the oceans. As the pH levels in the ocean drop to a more acidic level, this is where changes start occurring. Calcium carbonate minerals are the building blocks for the shells and skeletons of many oceanic organisms. Higher acidity deteriorates these shells and skeletons more swiftly and severely (PMEL Carbon Program).
When shellfish atrophy in significant numbers, this in turn impacts food supply and the economy where seafood production is a vital industry. States such as Washington that rely heavily on the shellfish industry for revenue are experiencing large hits in the amount of shellfish that they are able to produce. Washington State usually makes about $270 million a year in the shellfish industry yet this figure has dropped dramatically as the oceans continue to acidify (Gewin, 1). The effects that ocean acidification has had on a small-scale economy like Washington’s are daunting yet prime examples of what could take place globally if ocean acidification were to grow worse. Shelled organisms are perhaps the most important organisms in the ocean. They are a vital source of food for the higher members of the food chain and when they become endangered, the rest of the chain does as well. Shelled organisms are also an important source of food for humans. Today, more than a billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein. Many jobs and economies in the U.S. and around the world depend on the fish and shellfish in our oceans (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory). Last but certainly not least, the natural beauty of the oceans is under attack. Have you ever gone snorkeling and wondered how the extensive coral landscape that houses so many underwater creatures came to exist? Well it took thousands of years to develop and ocean acidification is contributing to the depletion of certain coral species. For example, increasing ocean acidification has been shown to significantly reduce the ability of reef-building corals to produce their skeletons (PMEL). While the acidic levels in the ocean rise, they create an environment that deteriorates the skeleton of coral and makes it near impossible for more coral to grow.
Ocean acidification is obviously an issue that ceases to go away, and like most modern environmental issues, it begins with carbon emissions. It’s time to take action against such an issue affecting an environment that covers more than seventy percent of our globe (NOAA).
What’s Happening to Address the Problem, and Why It’s Not Working
Despite ocean acidification being a worldwide issue, the federal government has been slow to implement any form of plans to help reduce or cease further ocean acidification. Washington state has been the front-runner of targeting this issue, as it affects one of their main industries. In November 2012 a $3.3 million dollar plan was launched in Washington state to research the effects of ocean acidification, spread awareness of the findings to policymakers and the public, and to advocate for reductions of carbon emissions (Washington State Leads, 1).
Despite this landmark step, the larger problem is reducing global CO2 emissions, which is an issue that one state cannot take on alone. CO2 emissions have one of the greatest impacts on the oceans and marine life because rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere contribute to ocean acidification. Marine life is the innocent victim of the side effects of CO2 emissions.
Humans are the cause of rise in CO2, so it is time that we as a society take responsibility for our actions.
The Obama Administration has taken responsibility for the USA’s emission of CO2 by implementing the Climate Change Action Plan. In June of 2013 Obama announced that his plan for combating climate change in the coming year will reduce the amount of CO2 the United States emits (President Obama’s Plan, 1). With the support and help of Xi Jinping, president of China, that Obama has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 by 20% (Wong, 1). However, these actions would take years to take affect. Oceanic environmental issues need to be taken seriously by lawmakers and citizens so real change can happen immediately.
Ocean acidification is a serious issue, although many U.S. citizens are unaware of the problem entirely. According to a study by Yale University, only 25% of people know what ocean acidification is, and 50% of people are aware that CO2 emissions are a result of human activity (American’ Knowledge, 3). Virtually nothing is happening to bring awareness to the issue itself, and that needs to change.
Proposed Initiative: Back to Basic
Through the use of Tumblr, Facebook, iPetition and other forms of social media we plan to bring awareness to ocean acidification so that the delicious plate of shellfish can remain for our future generations to share. Ocean Acidification Reduction’s campaign “Back to Basic” is focused on spreading awareness of ocean acidification, and making citizens and lawmakers in Washington realize the detrimental effects of carbon emissions in our oceans. Our mission is to begin a conversation of this problem; we believe that if we apply enough pressure to the government, ocean acidification must be taken seriously. Other than presenting Back to Basic to a government official, OAR plans on contacting Taylor Shellfish, a major shellfish producer in the Pacific Northwest, for support in our crusade against ocean acidification. Not only does Taylor Shellfish have connections that would allow us to meet other corporations and individuals invested in this issue, but they have resources that would help us gain national attention. OAR’s final goal is to reduce the overall carbon emissions that the United States produces. Each one of us is contributing to the destruction of our ocean creatures, yet we have the power to stop it. Please send us your support and pledge to better the environment and ourselves.
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Gewin, Virginia. "US Declares War on Acid Waters." Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group,
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"Ocean Acidification Education Project (OAEP)- Resources." Ocean Acidification Education Project (OAEP)- Resources. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
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"Washington State Leads on Emerging Ocean Acidification Challenge." Ocean Conservancy:
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Wong, Edward. "China’s Climate Change Plan Raises Questions." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.