Ocean Acidification Part 1: Reduce our carbon footprint for coral reefs

Blog post by: Regan Jade

Did you know that your daily actions are contributing to the changing chemistry of our oceans?

Coral reefs are incredibly important; they are some of the most biologically rich and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide food, jobs, income, and protection to billions of people worldwide (2).

However, our actions are threatening our beautiful coral reefs.

Humans are burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere at unprecedented levels (1); this rise in carbon dioxide is a big problem as more than 25% of it is absorbed by our oceans and causing them to increase in acidity. This is termed ocean acidification.  And it’s a big problem for our coral reefs.

The problem with ocean acidification

Most marine organisms are adapted to  a relatively stable ocean pH; however since pre-industrial times, ocean acidity levels have increased by 30%.  Research suggests future ocean acidification rates could be higher than anything experienced in the previous 65 million years (3).

When the ocean increases in acidity, marine organisms like corals and crustaceans find it very difficult to build their shells and skeletons. This is because these organisms use calcium carbonate, the same material that chalk and limestone are made of, to form their shells. Calcium carbonate is typically abundant in seawater, but as the ocean becomes more acidic, it becomes less abundant. This decreases the ability of marine organisms to create structures to sustain their lives, including corals who also create habitat for a large proportion of marine life (4).

Need more convincing? Check out this video of Hermie and his reality with ocean acidification (also a great video to show the kids)

 

Carbon emissions on the rise

Human activity since the Industrial Revolution has increased carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high for a sustained period of time was 2 – 4.6 million years ago (5). Carbon emissions caused by humans come from many sources, including the burning of fossils fuels like coal, oil and gas; deforestation, agriculture, and the production of plastic.

By reducing your carbon emissions, you can help our coral reefs. It may seem like the issue is too much to tackle as an individual but we can all make a difference with our daily actions.

Five things you can do to reduce your carbon emissions and help our coral reefs

  • Drive your car less: The burning of fossils fuels is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Can you bike to work? Take public transport or carpool with your work mates?
  • Eat locally: How far has your food traveled? Reduce your carbon emissions by opting for local produce instead of produce that has been shipped from overseas.
  • Conserve your energy use at home and switch to green energy: Turn off lights when you are not in the room, switch off power points and swap to a green energy provider like Power Shop (6).
  • Reduce your plastic use: Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels like oil and gas (7). Many Plastics are made from oil and gas so choose to reuse instead, recycle where possible and avoid single-use plastic.
  • Monitor your local reefs: Become a reef searcher with reef check so you can monitor the health of your local reefs over time.

Start with one action at a time and keep building on your new habits when you can. What action will you start with today to help our coral reefs? Let us know in the comments.

 

References

(1) The threat of ocean acidification to ocean ecosystems – John Guinotte and Victoria J Fabry

(2) http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral11_protecting.html

(3) http://phys.org/news/2010-02-ocean-acidification-fastest-million-years.html

(4) http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/how-climate-change-can-affect-the-reef/ocean-acidification

(5) http://www.sciencealert.com/earth-s-co2-levels-just-permanently-crossed-a-really-scary-threshold?0_2520304173231125=

(6) http://www.powershop.com.au/

(7) https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases

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