Stopping ocean acidification would save billions of dollars in revenue
Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
November 12, 2008
A new report from Oceana shows that action taken now to curb ocean acidification would not only preserve the world's coral reefs, but also save billions in lost revenue in the fishing and tourism industries.
Acidification of the oceans, a result of increasing carbon dioxide emissions, threatens marine animals with calcium carbonate skeleton and shells, such as crabs, lobsters, clams, oysters, and coral. A lower pH makes it more difficult for these animals to produce the shells and skeletons necessary to their survival, likely leading to widespread declines of such species and extinctions.
"Ocean acidification is a consequence of climate change that we don't hear much about, but one that will change life as we know it in the coming decades if we don't act now," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana. "Marine animals that use carbonate to make their shells will suffer – including species that are vital components of marine ecosystems, and many that have tremendous economic value."
Great Barrier Reef in Australia
The report estimates that around 100 million people are dependent on coral reefs for their livelihood. For many in poorer island nations, reefs provide a much-needed source of protein. In all it is estimated that coral reefs provide around 30 billion dollars annually to the world economy. For example, the coral reefs of Hawaii are estimated to bring the island state 360 million dollars a year. If the reefs disappear, Hawaii's tourism and fishing industries may suffer greatly.
A decrease in shellfish, and possible extinctions, will also have wide-ranging economic impacts. Shellfish farming has an estimated worth of 10 billion dollars annually. Dwindling shellfish will not only lead to a lack of lobster on the menu, but also job losses and regional economic depressions.
"The ripple effects of accelerating acidification throughout marine ecosystems will be far-reaching," said Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb, the primary author of the report. "But we can prevent this tragic outcome by improving energy efficiency and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power."
The most important action recommended by the report in order to protect ocean ecosystems from acidification is to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from going above 350 parts per million (ppm). This recommendation is in line with many other climate scientists' warnings. However, current levels of carbon in the atmosphere are already at 385 ppm, far higher than scientists would like them to be.
The report recommends that nations around the world need to cut carbon emissions 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 to 95 percent by 2050. To accomplish this, nations must make rapid transitions to alternative energy sources, promote energy efficiency, and regulate the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.
If acidification continues in oceans, researchers predict a large-scale dying off of the world's coral reefs and a mass-extinction of marine species.