What does the acidifying ocean mean for you?

This week, the U.S. Department of State has been hosting an “Our Ocean” conference to talk about the state of the oceans around the world. The prognosis isn’t very good.

The conference revolves around three pillars — increasing ocean acidification and marine pollution and aiming towards sustainable fisheries — all of which will impact humans, food consumption and what our oceans are comprised of.

Ocean Acidity

The ocean covers about three quarters of the globe and 97% of the planet’s water, and because of human interference, its acidity levels are rising. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution alone, reports cite that oceans are 30% more acidic than they were prior to the revolution. Oceans have absorbed human-generated carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and when mixed with ocean water, the acidity increases.

Oceans and their chemistry changes, but what is concerning to scientists is the rate at which they’re changing: 10 million times faster than any other time in the past 50 million years.

Research from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory says that without “urgent and substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” the ocean’s increasing acidity will make it become more corrosive to shelled animals and corals. Global production of shellfish because of this, according to the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability, is likely to decrease.

The Institute for Sustainability also says that reefs are dying faster than they’re growing; if reefs go, coastal fisheries also risk collapse. Food resources, income from tourism and many marine creatures could all be at risk.

Additionally, there will be reduced calcification, growth and reproduction rates in species, as well as changes to the carbon and nitrogen composition of organic material. Other changes in ecosystems are also imminent, particularly that some of the cold and upwelling waters that support key fisheries and aquaculture could become vulnerable.

Marine Pollution

This issue impacts ocean quality and life. As nitrogen pollution from various sources enters the water, marine environments can become overwhelmed with the high concentrations of nutrients. This can create large algal blooms. When the blooms die and decay, oxygen is consumed, thus creating a “dead zone,” where marine life cannot survive.

With about 600 of these dead zones around the world, many ecosystems and species have been disrupted, as well as fisheries and tourism.

Sustainable Fisheries

One ocean issue directly related to human food supply is the lack of sustainable fisheries. The fact of the matter is that much of the world’s fish stocks are fished at unsustainable levels.

Information from the Our Ocean conference cites that “an estimated 30% [of fisheries] are overexploited, while another 57% cannot support expanded harvest and require effective management to avoid decline.”

Eco-friendly land fisheries may be one solution to this issue.

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