Oceans Acidification: A Threat to Fish Industry and Marine Life
Our oceans are vast and home to many marine plant and animal species. Providing shelter to millions of fish, microorganisms, crustaceans, and coral reefs. Oceans are among the most valuable resources in the world. Moreover, they provide a living for millions of people in their respective fields.
Yet we as humans have a bad habit of destroying everything that earth has blessed us with. There is myriad abuse our oceans have endured since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
The industrial period began about 200 years ago. Since then the oceans have absorbed nearly half of human-produced carbon emissions emanated through the burning of fossil fuels to power factories and vehicles.
“Ocean” also termed as nature’s carbon sink has absorbed enough carbon dioxide pollution over the industrial period where it can’t take any more of it without damaging a great magnitude of marine life.
So how exactly these carbon emissions are exactly bad for the ocean? Let’s take things into perspective.
Ways Carbon Emissions are Destroying the Ocean:
When CO2 enters the water, it negatively reacts with water’s biochemistry. It forms itself into Carbonic Acid, quickly dissociating further into Bicarbonate, and finally dissociating into Carbonate.
During this process, it constantly loses its Hydrogen Ions. Which are then released into the water bodies. Hydrogen Ions in great numbers are a threat to the ocean’s biochemistry as it makes the water more acidic. Leading to what is called Ocean Acidification.
This disturbs the ocean’s pH levels, decreasing them down. Since the start of the industrial period, the ocean has become 30% more acidic.
Some studies indicate that if the manmade global emissions are to continue at this accelerated pace then the average pH levels will fall even further; making the ocean 150% more acidic (due to concentration of hydrogen ions) by the year 2100.
This decrease in pH levels is said to be a hundred times greater than ever experienced before in millennia. The consequences of such acidification on marine life could be catastrophic.
However, the harmful effects of ocean acidification are not fully understood as there hasn’t been much research conducted in this regard. The scientists proposed that research in this regard should be conducted on a global scale to further comprehend the causes of ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification is sometimes called the “evil twin” of global warming because both are inseparably linked.
Bleaching of Coral Reefs & Great Demise of Marine Species in Progress:
The highly acidic water makes it difficult for some marine species to calcify. Calcium carbonate and other proteins require a certain degree of pH to regulate properly in the water bodies.
Hydrogen-rich water and Calcium carbonate don’t go hand in hand in the water. This threatens the microorganisms such as zooplankton, phytoplankton, and crabs, shellfish, clams, oysters, and the coral reefs. This takes away their ability to build an exoskeleton and shell.
Though zooplankton and phytoplankton can’t be seen with an unaided eye but that doesn’t snatch their importance. They are the foundation of the food web as a crucial food source for fish larvae and other heterotrophs.
These organisms are also responsible for producing half of the world’s oxygen. Although these organisms are sensitive to ocean acidification. Which could potentially starve their Calcium carbonate diet and render them to dissolve in the acidic water.
Similarly, crabs, shellfish, oysters, clams, and the majority of coral reefs are also dependant on Calcium carbonate to build their shells and plates.
The coral reefs are a great necessity for almost everyone dwelling in the ocean. For example, they inhabit millions of fish, plankton, crabs, clams, and numerous other species. These marine animals seek shelter within the crevices of coral reefs. This is where fish larvae are born and reach adulthood within the safety of coral reefs.
The corals also filter the seawater. Provide shoreline protection from aggressive waves by absorbing 97% of energy, in the meantime, they save human lives and property from flood and destruction.
With added acidity in the water bodies, these coral reefs are at immense risk as they’re prone to coral bleaching, where the corals lose their color and perish after some unsuccessful attempts to recover.
Studies suggest and without these coral reefs guarding the coastline, frequent damage from storms would be extensive.
As mentioned earlier, these coral reefs are essential for the marine ecosystem to thrive in a well-balanced environment. They provide shelter to a vast majority of marine species such as fish larvae, matured fish, plankton, crabs, shellfish, oysters, etc. All these animals are dependent on corals to find their food, seek shelter, hide from predators, and to grow safely into adults.
However, the absence of the coral reefs would force these animals to relocate their habitats, during this process, they will become open to predators, unable to reproduce, having their larvae either to die or become an easy meal for predators.
This could possibly cause the whole food web to collapse as the predators high up in the food web will have less to eat, forcing them to look elsewhere for food.
The Local Fisheries at Loss
This also threatens the local fish industries and people who have seafood as their primary source of protein. Around 15 tons of seafood is acquired from the well-regulated coral reefs of Southeast Asia annually.
The fishing industry generates about $2.4 billion from seafood every year. This is all thanks to the coral reefs for allowing different species of fish to flourish.
Unfortunately, scientists argue that ocean acidification is irreversible during our lifetimes. It could take tens of thousands of years for ocean chemistry to return to a condition similar to the pre-industrial period — 200 years ago.
The only practical way to mitigate ocean acidification is to reduce carbon emissions from releasing into the atmosphere. This action should be taken on a global scale as one country can’t make a difference alone.
The developing countries are the biggest carbon polluters as of being in the phase of increasing exports to control the economy, creating jobs, and ensuring the livelihood of their citizens.
The transportation segment in almost every country accounts for a big margin of carbon pollution. The introduction of electric cars into such countries and banning fossil fuel-powered cars will be a logical answer to this problem.
Generating power from a renewable source of energy will be a huge leap forward for every country. This could also address the carbon pollution in the cities, creating a clean environment for everyone to breathe in.
However, ocean acidification is one of the many problems that marine life is facing right now.
From floating plastics on water’s surface to irretrievable plastics sunk into the ocean floor. Seabirds succumbing to plastic in their digestive tract; their chicks dying before reaching adulthood.
Ship pollution; oil tankers causing oil spills in the ocean, doing irreversible damage to the marine environment.
Eutrophication; excessive nutrients washing from agriculture industries into the estuaries (basically where the river meets the sea) causing harmful algae blooms; robbing the plants and fish off of oxygen, and therefore creating a dead zone in the estuaries.
The list of the problem can go on and on. Since the beginning of the industrial period in 1751, we have been pushing our oceans to their limits. It’s time we come together to put an end to this centuries-old abuse.