Rising carbon dioxide emissions are altering the pH levels of the ocean, with dramatic consequences for the marine environment and the people who depend on it, a group of British scientists has said.
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Experts from the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have warned, in a new report published by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), that the current rate of ocean acidification is a grave threat to both humans and natural ecosystems.
Acidification is already underway, scientists found, and is set to get worse with unbearable consequences on the oceans and its inhabitants. Damage to coral reefs – which provide food and shelter to many species – could cause economic damage of up to $1 trillion (£650bn) a year, according to the report, while around 400 million people whose livelihoods depend on the oceans are also at risk.
Sebastian Hennige, lead editor of the report said, “Our work at Heriot-Watt University and in the north-east Atlantic has given us a much better appreciation of the vulnerability of cold-water corals.”
“There is a risk that their habitat will literally dissolve away, since living corals grow on structures made by their dead ancestors. These structures will be subject to chemical erosion over very large ocean areas if current trends continue.”
Prof Murray Roberts, co-editor of the report and co-ordinator of the University’s new Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology, added, “At the end of the day, the only way to deal with ocean acidification is to reduce carbon emissions. But for this to happen people first need to be aware that ocean acidification is an important issue, and having it high on the CBD agenda is a huge step forward.”
A previous, separate study also found that today’s rate of acidification is 10 times faster than it was 55 million years ago, when fossil records reveal a mass extinction of sea species.
Photo: Stephen Edgar via flickr