The world’s oceans are a beautiful place, but as you might have heard, their chemistry is changing, which is bad news for those both above and below the waves. Thanks to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the ocean is growing more acidic. Even mild changes in pH can have serious consequences for marine organisms, which have spent millennia adapting to current conditions. As the ocean becomes more acidic, it completely changes the environment, and the resulting sour sea risks becoming a barren one.
This represents a tremendous loss of biodiversity, which is an intrinsic environmental loss, but also a problem for organisms that rely on the ocean for survival. This includes humans, seabirds and mammals like seals who eat fish and other marine organisms. In addition, it’s also a problem for the Earth’s atmosphere, which relies on marine organisms to produce a steady supply of oxygen as a byproduct of internal chemical processes. As go the oceans, so go the world, and studies show that acidification is already harming marine ecosystems.
Globally, this has been positioned as a worldwide problem, which it is: the planet’s governments need to act together to address emissions, fight climate change, and talk about how to protect the ocean. However, a new study from Stanford reveals that there are at least nine actions that could be taken on the local level to address ocean acidification on an immediate basis. Think of it as fighting the fire and working to prevent future fires on the ground. The study contradicts the dispirited claim some people like to make when they say it’s impossible for individual actions to make a difference, given the huge scale of climate change and related global issues.
The researchers found that because ocean acidification is affected by issues like stormwater runoff, agricultural chemicals, nutrient pollution, and upwelling, local forces can actually make a huge difference. Water quality managers and officials in particular could play a key role in controlling and ultimately fighting acidification in their areas. It’s time to increase controls on nutrient and agricultural chemical pollution, control stormwater runoff more effectively, and ensure that water reaching the sea is clean, rather than relying on the ocean to clean contamination on its own. These measures can help stave off acidification, and protect local organisms.
While water quality, including the quality of water discharged into the ocean, has been a growing concern over the last 100 years, more measures are necessary to help fight acidification. Using public education, monitoring and policy changes, individual communities could make a huge difference, and that difference could translate to better conditions for the ocean, and the planet. This kind of ground-level work will also help contribute to global efforts to address climate change. While it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of missing the forest for the trees, sometimes you have to look at the trees, too, and that’s what this study is all about.
Photo credit: Cris.