Ocean Acidification: a Global Opportunity

This article is written by Nicolas Pinceloup.

The 8th of June is World Ocean Day, it is the time of the year to question our relationship with them. Let it be a reminder of our interdependence and a call for the recognition of their importance, but more importantly, a pledge for action.

In the beginning

In the beginning oceans were wide, mysterious and scary. Strange for they provide water that cannot be drink and food for whom is ready to face its dangers. They were the starting point of great stories and myths, the cradle of Moby Dick, Poseidon and the mermaids. But our fingerprint took away the myths and shed light on their fragile equilibrium. Men and women such as Jean-Jacques Cousteau and Anita Conti taught us the vulnerability of the oceans to our impact.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. Source: Wikipédia.

Carbon dioxide and acidification

Today, oceans are the witnesses of a fight that has yet to find its protagonists, a battle that we know will happen. The scientific community agrees, the acidification of the ocean is the “other CO2 problem” and because 12% of the human population depends on fisheries directly or indirectly, and that 44% of us lives within 150 km of the sea, we will all ultimately be impacted. The IPCC predicts that the acidification will double by the end of this century, with uncertain consequences for the habitability of the oceans on the long term for both the flora and fauna. We have to accept that Earth is never going to be the same again…

The hidden enemy

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans at a rate of a third of our total emissions. The natural sink function of the oceans plays the role of a buffer against climate change and regulate the climate. But what exactly is happening when the gas is absorbed ?
Oceans become acid by the formation of protons (H+) when carbon dioxide is dissolving as follows :

CO2(atmos) ↔CO2(aq) + H2O ↔ H2CO3 ↔ H+ + HCO−3 ↔ 2H+ + CO2−3 .

Not only this reaction leads to the acidification process, it also induces the dissolving of shells by disturbing the chemistry of water and the abundance of minerals such as CaCO3 used by animals. Knowing that the shellfish industry account for an appreciable 24 billion US dollars each year and that 60% of shell species are negatively impacted by the acidification process, we can imagine how this sector will be damaged.
But it is not only an economic question and CO2 emission is not the main issue. The major issue is the way we perceive development, the way we think of progress and the way we consider our relationship with our environment.

A global opportunity

Ocean acidification is a great example of how climate change impacts us and bind us all, and how our actions have consequences on the short and long term. It is an example of how political decisions should be based on scientific studies and conclusions, like we did in the past with the Montreal Protocol to stop the ozone depletion, of how we should decide today what we want for tomorrow.

The fight against ocean acidification is a fight against an enemy crawling slowly in the deep, between the rifts and the pits, damaging corals, shells, impacting fishes and plants. People doubting or denying the occurrence of climate change, or its human-induced origin cannot ignore the vulnerability of our oceans to an increasing concentration of CO2. Wherever you are, whatever you believe, it will impact you. Indeed the words spoken by Gloria Steinem are appropriate :

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”.

The truth is harsh, terrible, unstoppable, like a tsunami coming on the shore of our beliefs. We need to act, to rethink our relationship with the sea and more importantly, our responsibility. Ocean Acidification is a global opportunity for humankind if we decide to act toward tackling our CO2 emissions and rethink our develoment. Every step taken towards a low carbon emission society is a step toward tackling climate change, toward reducing Ocean Acidification. It will be a step leading to another view of our common natural resources and how we perceive our environment. In May, there was a simulation of the UNFCCC in Paris where the Oceans were incorporated as a non-state delegation and took part in the negotiation process. This lead to great discussion and ultimately help the recognition of their importance. Moreover, their resources were taken into account and states delegation had to deal with its voice in their attempt to make a deal. What if territories such as Oceans were represented into the negotiation process ? Will it help COP21 or any further UNFCCC ? If we do so, maybe the oceans will no longer be wide and fearful, they will become a part of our future, taking care of, listened, preserved and cherish for what they are, the starting point of life.



About the author: Nicolas Pinceloup graduated from a master’s degree in plant biology at the University of Strasbourg. Resolute to dedicate his life to the protection of the environment, he is currently looking for the appropriate job opportunity. At the beginning of 2015 he joined CliMates and is now involved in the Responsibility project and in the OceanAcidification project.

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