Ocean Acidification

Today was the first day of the COP 15 conference and I am rather impressed with how smoothly things are running. Took less than 10 minutes today to go through security to gain entrance to the conference, yesterday it took a hour to get through. We were not able to go to the opening plenary session because we didn’t have the right badges but our Minnesota delegate Aurora was able to infiltrate the meeting. The rest of us who couldn’t get in watched on large flat screen TVs or in special projector screens in private rooms.

Since I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I instead ventured out into the building to some of the meetings going on in the U.S. Delegation offices. One of particular interest, something I knew very little about, was Ocean Acidification and the impacts of carbon dioxide on Marine ecosystems. This event was sponsored by Oceana, a marine conservation and advocacy group. Ocean acidification is a topic that was really not addressed in the Kyoto protocol but should have been.

Up until 2006, nothing was really published about the effects of the damaging process. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans have been emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at alarming levels. Today it is fact that mankind’s footprint on the ocean is clearly detectable. It is warmer, more acidic, and less diverse. When we emit Co2 into our atmosphere some of that carbon is captured by plants and trees, but in marine ecosystems, this carbon is directly absorbed into the ocean. This absorption of Co2 in the oceans has a corrosive effect, raising the pH level and increasing the calcification rate. This is harmful to organisms such as phytoplankton because they undergo a process known as dissolution where their bodies are broken down to pieces while they are still alive. The dissolution of these organisms means less food for marine ecosystems, also an increase in the nitrogen-fixating bacteria. The dissolution of phytoplankton and other organisms leads to reduced growth, production and life span of adult fish, juveniles and larvae.

So how does this effect you? Well, let’s think about it. A reduction in fish population is going to have harsh consequences for the seafood industry, small fisheries, and hatcheries. Inflow of corrosive waters across shelf and ecosystems is a terrible threat for small island nations and pacific countries as their coral reefs disappear. To these people, ocean acidification is a matter of life and death. The delegates here representing those countries are pushing for mandates on Co2 reductions because there are NO other options for them. A reduction in emissions is the only way to stop this process.

The last ingredient in a climate change remedy is political will. Without legislation, change is not going to happen. This is why a treaty in Copenhagen is of the utmost importance.

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