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Ocean Acidification – Coming to a Coast Near You! (Or One Reason Waxman-Markey Matters For Oceans)

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer


Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill. Most of it focuses carbon emissions and it’s impact on global warming. This is serious stuff, but carbon emissions are causing another crisis that may be even more damaging – ocean acidification. To help push acidification into the conversation, here are a few talking points:

The Basics (I know, bad pun)

  • Acidification occurs when atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the ocean.
  • The ocean is slightly basic, with an historic pH of around 8.2 (7 is neutral). As CO2 dissolves in seawater, the ocean’s pH declines, becoming more acidic.
  • Over the past 200 years, CO2 absorption has caused the ocean’s pH to decline by .1 (30%).
  • If we continue to produce CO2 at the current rate, the ocean’s pH could drop another .3 units by 2100 – a 150% increase in acidity.

OK, so what?

  • Corals, certain phytoplankton, mussels, snails, and certain larval fish require calcium carbonate to develop their shells and skeletons.
  • CO2 dissolved in seawater causes a chemical reaction that removes carbonate ions, which impacts the survival of these organisms.
  • The decline of plankton, a vital food source for many species, could alter the food web.
  • Coral reefs will rebuild more slowly and lose the ability to fight off bleaching, disease and death. By the middle of this century, coral reefs may be eroding faster than they can be rebuilt.
  • About half of all federally managed fisheries rely on reefs for portions of their life cycles.

NOAA’s Richard Feely, an acidification expert, says, “What was projected to occur in the open ocean models by the end of the century, we found is occurring right now along our entire continental shelf as far as we looked.”

From an ocean perspective, this is why Waxman-Markey and its goals of CO2 emission reduction are so important. If we can’t get our terrestrial act together with clean renewable energy and major lifestyle change, we’ll have more than a global warming problem - we’ll have dead oceans.

So Champs, let’s go preach the message about ocean acidification and drive home the need for emissions reductions, lifestyle change and support for bills like Waxman-Markey that get us going in the right direction.

Date Posted: June 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am


  1. Mike,
    A most excellent post - a very accessible summary and much appreciated - I just have beef with one thing, the last sentence “let’s go preach the message.” That’s the problem with us environmentalists…too much preaching, it annoys the masses. We’ve got to be more clever than preaching. (after all, church attendance this decade has declined significantly, so that should tell us a bit something about how ‘preaching’ is going :-))

    Comment by Traci — June 30, 2009 @ 7:08 am
  2. So sorry for the slow response. I really appreciate you taking the time to think about and comment on my blog. I tend to agree with your feedback about “preaching.” I think I got a little sloppy with my language at the end of the blog, and that word doesn’t convey the right image. I think there are ultimately a number of factors that are important to improving ocean health. First, we need to build political power for the oceans (ok, that’s a little self serving, since it’s what Ocean Champions does, but it is a critical piece), and properly harnessing market forces is good too. In the end, though, I still believe we need a bigger army of “converts” to broaden the ocean constituency. Preaching may not be the best way to reach them, but we’ve got to figure out a way to message effectively. Would love to hear any ideas you or others have about the best way to do that.

    Thanks again!

    Comment by Michael Dunmyer — July 7, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

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