As the global economies and population grow, so do our energy needs. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are the most commonly used energy source, creating an increasingly apparent hidden cost: ocean acidification.
For decades, the ocean has absorbed atmospheric carbon dioxide, raising its acidity levels and threatening the future of marine life and ecosystems.
Here, we’ll explore the hidden cost of our energy choices, focusing specifically on fossil fuels and their relationship to ocean acidification.
What Is Ocean Acidification?
Ocean acidification is a process where the pH of seawater reduces, making the ocean more acidic. When atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, the reaction produces carbonic acid, which has a low pH.
While carbon is constantly released through natural processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition, burning fossil fuels produces excessive amounts of carbon dioxide. And since the ocean acts as a sink for carbon, it can absorb up to 25% of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, increasing the process of ocean acidification.
Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Life
Acidic seawater makes it difficult for marine organisms to build shells and calcium carbonate skeletons. The animal shells and skeletons become weaker, thinner, and more prone to dissolution, exposing shell-forming marine animals to predation, disease, and other environmental stressors.
Ocean acidification also affects fish and other marine animals’ growth, development, and behaviour. Acidic seawater impacts their sensory abilities, making it difficult to smell and locate food. It also affects their metabolism and how their bodies use energy. While some fish species can adapt to these changes, others are more vulnerable, changing their distribution, abundance, and productivity.
The Economic Cost of Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification disrupts the food chain, making it harder for fish to grow and reproduce. This significantly impacts fish populations that support commercial fishing operations, leading to a decline in catches and a loss of revenue for fishing communities.
The loss of revenue creates job losses and a decline in living standards for many people. Similarly, ocean acidification leads to declining industries that rely on healthy marine ecosystems, such as tourism.
Mitigating Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification is one of our most pressing environmental issues, with severe consequences for marine ecosystems and communities that rely on them. However, it’s never too late to take action. These steps can help reduce carbon emissions in our ecosystem:
- Use renewable energy sources: Solar, hydropower, and wind power emit little to no carbon dioxide. Investing in these renewable sources reduces carbon emissions in the atmosphere and saves our oceans.
- Reduce energy consumption: Using energy-efficient appliances and reducing transportation-related emissions helps reduce carbon emissions and ocean acidity.
- Plant trees: Trees absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and store it in their biomass. Increasing our tree population reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide and restores marine life.
- Carbon capture and storage: Special technology exist to capture and store industrially produced carbon dioxide underground.
Role of Governments in Reducing Carbon Emissions
Governments must create policies and regulations that incentivize renewable energy sources and reduce energy consumption. They can also invest in researching and developing new technologies that can mitigate the impact of ocean acidification.
International cooperation to address climate change should also be encouraged to manage the impact of climate change and develop new ways of dealing with ocean acidification.
Beyond Carbon Emissions
The impact of fossil fuels on our planet goes far beyond global warming. Ocean acidification, a hidden cost of our energy choices, poses a massive threat to marine life and the fishing industry, with far-reaching economic consequences.
As we continue relying on fossil fuels, we must acknowledge their impact on our oceans and take steps to mitigate this damage. Only by working together can we create a sustainable future for later generations.