Oceans Under Threat

The world's oceans are in peril, and one of the greatest threats they face is ocean acidification. This process occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in seawater, causing the water's pH level to decrease. As a result, the oceans become more acidic, which can have devastating consequences for coral reefs and marine life.

Understanding Ocean Acidification

To understand the impact of ocean acidification, it's important to first understand the science behind it. When CO2 is released into the atmosphere, it's absorbed by the ocean. This leads to an increase in the amount of carbonic acid in the water, which lowers the pH level.

The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is considered acidic, while anything above 7 is considered basic. The ocean's pH level has already dropped by 0.1 since the Industrial Revolution, and is projected to decrease by another 0.3 to 0.4 by the end of the century if current emissions continue.

The Impact on Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, but they are also some of the most vulnerable to ocean acidification. As the water becomes more acidic, it becomes harder for coral to form their skeletons. This can lead to a process called "coral bleaching," where the coral loses its color and dies.

Coral reefs are also home to a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, and sharks. Without healthy coral reefs, these species will be at risk of extinction.

The Impact on Marine Life

Ocean acidification can also have a direct impact on marine life. Many marine organisms, including shellfish and some types of plankton, rely on calcium carbonate to form their shells and skeletons. As the water becomes more acidic, it becomes harder for these organisms to form their protective structures. This can have a cascading effect on the entire marine food chain.

What We Can Do to Help

Despite the challenges facing our oceans, there are steps we can take to help protect them. One of the most important things we can do is reduce our carbon footprint. This means driving less, using energy-efficient appliances, and switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

We can also reduce our use of single-use plastics, which often end up in the ocean and contribute to pollution. Supporting conservation efforts and marine protected areas can also help to protect coral reefs and marine life.

In conclusion, ocean acidification is a serious threat to our oceans, coral reefs, and marine life. By understanding the science behind it and taking action to reduce our carbon footprint, we can help to protect these vital ecosystems for generations to come.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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