In the fight against climate change, the population is forced to focus on the ecosystems and environments that are most affected. While forestry is a primary focus, the largest problem at stake are the oceans, as they host a habitat for millions of species, including coral reefs. Coral reefs however are facing mass deterioration, as ocean acidification continues to infect water bodies and every species living in them. In this article, we will briefly investigate what ocean acidification is and how it is affecting the development and growth of coral reefs and aquatic life as a whole.
Figure 1. A coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef (Olivia Lai, 2023).
What is Ocean Acidification?
Julia Jacobo from ABC News credits the process of ocean acidification to excessive levels of CO2 (carbon dioxide) being stored in the oceans. An article explaining ocean acidification states that ocean acidification is “caused primarily by an uptick in carbon dioxide absorption from the atmosphere.” In simpler terms, excess carbon dioxide requires itself to be stored somewhere (Julia Jacobo, 2023). Since the oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface, water serves as a primary deposit for CO2. Despite the mass and area the oceans uphold, ocean acidification is responsible for destroying the natural cycle of species, specifically aquatic plants. For example, Olivia Lai from Earth.org reported on a 2 degree Celsius increase in water temperature in Mexico (Olivia Lai, 2023). In her study, they found that “Mexico observed severe disturbances on coral photosynthesis and calcification. In contrast, the experimental simulation of the expected OA conditions by 2100 caused moderate changes in coral performance” (Olivia Lai, 2023). Whether the impact of ocean acidification is either extreme or moderate, there is still a significant amount of changes happening to coral reefs and aquatic plant life.
Impacts of declining population
Coral reefs are “known as the rainforest of the sea and the foundation of the ocean, and they are dying almost everywhere they are found” (Julia Jacobo, 2023). Commonly mistaken for plants, coral reefs are aquatic animals that encourage biodiversity within species of fish, delay storms and provide a livelihood for over one billion people (Olivia Lai, 2023). While coral reefs cannot absorb carbon dioxide and therefore cannot participate in carbon mitigation, they are an adaptable species, as some evolve to have harder shells and increased heat tolerance to avoid complete bleaching (Olivia Lai, 2023). Despite coral reefs adaptations to ocean acidification, this does not reduce their environmental importance. Reefs are “essential to both marine and land dwelling species, as about 25% of all marine life depends on coral reefs (Julia Jacobo, 2023). Scientist Danny DeMartini states that select fish populations and reefs have dropped up by 50% in the last 10 years (Julia Jacobo, 2023).
Figure 2. Kuleana Coral Reefs is working on restoring Hawaii’s coral reefs (Julia Jacobo, 2023).
Recently, the IAEA has established the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (Vladimir Tarakanov, 2022). The Centre aims to unite researchers and organizations in defeating the overarching problem of ocean acidification. The OA-ICC commits to the following requirements in enhancing ocean acidification research and finding new ways for prevention: Organizes training courses around the world; provides access to data; and manages a dedicated, open-access website that offers a steady stream of scientific reports, media coverage, policy briefs and other materials on ocean acidification. Promotes the development of data portals, standardized methodologies and best practices. Raises awareness among relevant stakeholders and informs them about the role nuclear and isotopic techniques can play in assessing ocean acidification’s impacts. Supports the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) — a community providing information on ocean acidification monitoring facilities and access to real-time data (Vladimir Tarakanov, 2022). Thanks to the IAEA, research for ocean acidification continues to grow and eventually, there may be a definitive solution to the problem as a whole.