An eight year study conducted by over 250 scientists in the BIOACID Project has found that because of the growing carbon dioxide emissions caused by modern industrial society, the oceans are becoming more acidic and will affect all sea life. The study finds that infant sea creatures will be harmed more so than adults, with research showing that the future number of baby cod and other fish surviving to adulthood could fall to a quarter or even a twelfth of today’s numbers. Additionally, their research shows that factors such as clime change, pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and agricultural fertilizers cause further acidification. Today’s ocean acidity measures at a pH of 8.1, compared to the pre-Industrial Revolution 8.2. While the change in acidity seems miniscule, it represents an acidity increase of about 26% and has the ability to cause substantial damage to sea life.
Ocean acidification occurs because as carbon dioxide is released from fossil fuels created by various production methods, it dissolves into the seawater and produces carbonic acid which lowers the pH of the water. The BIOACID Project’s lead author, Professor Ulf Riebesell, from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel is one of the major world authorities on ocean acidification. In an interview with BBC News, he warns of the effects by stating, “Acidification affects marine life across all groups, although to different degrees… early life stages are generally more affected than adult organisms. But even if an organism isn’t directly harmed by acidification it may be affected indirectly through changes in its habitat or changes in the food web.”
Doctor Carol Turley, an ocean acidification expert from Plymouth Marine Labs in the United Kingdom believes that this research should lead to reform in the United Nations climate change negotiations, “On the lead-up to the UN climate change negotiations in Bonn this November, it is clear that the ocean and its ecosystems should not be ignored.”
In the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which outlines 17 goals of the organization to transform the Earth into a cleaner place to live, states in Goal 14 that the oceans, seas, and marine resources must be protected. Goal 14 aims to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities,” by 2025, among other protective goals such as regulating overfishing and coastal preservation. In addition, it states that it will minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification through “enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.”
The UN has numerous voluntary commitments aimed to improve the quality of the oceans, including ocean cleanups and the Blue Carbon Code of Conduct. The Blue Carbon Code of Conduct is a pact signed by 40 non-governmental organizations, five academic institutions, 47 members of the scientific community, and the UN Environment Committee. It pledges to naturally improve shorelines, filter water, store atmospheric carbon, and provide nursing for fish populations.
While the UN has created environmental pacts, many countries do not abide by them. The ocean is getting increasingly worse, but the political motivation to create change is just not present. Countries are worried more of the economic impacts of limiting production instead of worrying about the state of the Earth and its protection. If any considerable action will be taken, the public must make politicians aware that it is a bigger problem than satisfying big corporations.
As marine biologist Rachel Carson says, “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.”