Growing concern over ocean acidification

Safe carbon dioxide limits for climate change may not avoid the worst effects of ocean acidification, scientists have warned.

A group of 155 marine scientists from 26 countries has issued a plea for immediate action on ocean acidification. The "Monaco Declaration" expresses deep concern over "recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry and their potential, within decades, to seriously affect marine organisms, food webs, biodiversity and fisheries."1 Commercial fish stocks may be hit, the group warns, with oceans becoming inhospitable to coral and other calcifying organisms.

Atmospheric CO2 targets must be set to avoid "not only dangerous climate change but also dangerous ocean acidification", the scientists say.

The declaration is also critical of geo-engineering proposals which aim to counter greenhouse gas-induced warming rather than mitigating emissions.

Meanwhile a five-year research programme on ocean acidification worth £12 million has been announced by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the Environment Department (DEFRA). A call for proposals will be issued in April or May, with projects due to start at the end of this year.

Topics for study include ocean CO2 uptake rates, ocean nutrient cycling, indirect effects of acidification on climate change, and impacts on ecosystems and commercially important species.

  • Coral growth rates in the Great Barrier Reef have fallen by 13% since 1990, according to research from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.2 The study was based on measurements from 69 reefs. The average amount of coral added during 1990 was 1.43 centimetres, declining to 1.24cm in 2005.

    Glenn De’ath and his colleagues point the finger at increased temperature stress and falling carbonate levels due to ocean acidification. "Precipitous changes in the biodiversity and productivity of the world’s oceans may be imminent," they conclude.

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