As carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels increase, the ocean absorbs some of it and becomes more acidic over time, which poses serious threats to marine life. Shellfish die, coral reefs deteriorate, and species become vulnerable; swift changes to ocean chemistry leave no time for adaptation by creatures that evolved over millennia of time in relatively stable environments.
Scientists can study acidification effects in the lab, but in order to fully grasp how our ocean will change over time, scientists must go out and conduct fieldwork themselves. They need to examine what’s happening on the seafloor, in the water column and at surface level; to do so they will require support from across their community.
Coastline communities are also feeling the effects of ocean acidification. The West Coast shellfish industry, for instance, relies on an unchanging environment in order to thrive. When ocean acidification increases seawater acidity to extreme levels, habitats lose resilience by failing to grow thick enough layers of calcium carbonate protecting their inhabitants’ shells and skeletons from predators, parasites, or weather events; leaving shellfish vulnerable against predators, parasites or weather events.
Ocean acidification is a consequence of human activities that is visible at all levels of aquatic ecosystems – from microbes in the mud to Dungeness crab, Oregon and Washington’s highest-revenue fishery on their Pacific Coasts. Ocean acidification also has adverse consequences for those who rely on these resources for food, jobs, culture and lifestyle purposes.
When carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it binds with water molecules to form acidic waters which, in turn, are composed of hydrogen ions and lead to ocean acidification by decreasing carbonate ion availability for building shells and skeletons of marine creatures and adhering to plant surfaces. Ocean acidification results from decreased availability of carbonate ions leading to dissolving coral reef structures which relied heavily on their calcium structure for stability.
Acidification will vary across regions of the oceans due to different upwellings of nutrient-rich yet more acidic and corrosive deep waters than others, and some regions could experience faster changes than others in ocean chemistry.
Even fish that seem simple can feel the effects of ocean acidification, which alters their blood and body fluid pH levels and can disrupt normal body functions like smell and hearing. A recent study discovered that clownfish (a type of fish) in more acidic waters do not flee from noises that would normally make them panic, possibly because their brain processes information differently due to acidification affecting how otoliths develop affecting hearing and balance development in cobia game fish – similar results have also been noted with cobia gamefish, for which acidification alters how otoliths develops in their ear bones which affect hearing and balance development – disrupting normal body functions such as smell and hearing functions as well.