The death of corals and mussels: scientific keys to face the acidification of the sea

Climate change has several consequences on seas and oceans.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
28 March 2023 Tuesday 04:57
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The death of corals and mussels: scientific keys to face the acidification of the sea

Climate change has several consequences on seas and oceans. The best known and, in part, feared, is the rise in sea level as a consequence of the melting of ice in terrestrial areas and the expansion of the volume of water due to the increase in temperature.

Less mentioned, but equally serious, is the problem of the acidification of seas and oceans due -mainly- to the carbon dioxide that various human activities emit into the atmosphere and which is partly absorbed by the water.

An international team of researchers publishes (March 27) an article in the journal Environmental Research Letters summarizing the situation and proposing a first unified framework for governments around the world to assess their readiness and guide future policies for address ocean acidification.

The problem is global and important. On a more specific scale, one of its consequences is that, in a more acidic sea (lower pH than normal) such as that caused by the greater accumulation of carbon dioxide, organisms that have a structure or dependency on calcium formations have problems. to survive. Corals and mussels, for example, are in danger in a more acidic sea.

"Ocean acidification is one of the silent killers of climate change," says Rebecca Albright, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Academy of Invertebrate Zoology and founder of the Coral Regeneration Lab (CoRL). "Although not as important as threats such as coral bleaching, ocean acidification will cause widespread destruction of marine environments by the end of this decade if we don't take urgent action," says Albright. To help institutions and politicians to identifying what actions should be taken, the authors analyze the problem and categorize the most effective responses.

Specifically, the researchers identified six aspects of an effective policy against ocean acidification, applicable to various levels of public administrations. Some of these proposals for action are general and refer to the commitment to protect the climate and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Likewise, the administrations are asked if they carry out actions to publicize the problem among the general population and if there are methods to verify that citizens contribute to curbing the problem.

Institutions are also asked if they have management plans for marine protected areas and if they invest in research in this area.

The authors are especially concerned about the lack of commitment to combating sea and ocean acidification (and climate change in general) in countries like Australia, one of the most affected by coral deaths.

Thus, the authors found that while Australia is generally well prepared with a thorough understanding of the adaptive capacity of vulnerable socio-economic sectors and management strategies that explicitly address ocean acidification, the country lacks policy coherence and measures. broader climate protection measures that may hamper their ability to reduce the greenhouse effect.

"Ocean acidification is not an isolated problem, but is closely related to other anthropogenic hazards, in Australia and elsewhere, such as warming, sea level rise, oxygen loss and eutrophication," he says. University of Queensland coral biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a co-author of the study.

"Therefore, any policy designed to address ocean acidification, whether locally or globally, must consider the many interconnected factors and their impacts on both ecosystems and society."

By providing a baseline for countries to assess their readiness for ocean acidification, the researchers say their framework will also enable researchers, conservationists and policymakers at all levels to identify areas for investment or collaboration to ensure their environments and societies are better protected.

“After governments self-assess their readiness for ocean acidification, they will have a better idea of ​​where gaps may exist,” says Sarah Cooley, Director of Climate Science at the Ocean Conservancy. “The gaps will be different for each government: some governments may need to increase fundamental research just to understand how their marine systems will respond to acidification, while others may need to increase adaptation to safeguard the people and ecosystems most likely to be affected. affected by acidification. This self-assessment will help governments focus future efforts to ensure that they are emphasizing the areas most essential to them and can take the necessary steps to address the main threats of acidification."