Life Style, July 5, 2010
By Misty Herrin
The increase in global carbon dioxide emissions is not just damaging the Earth's climate, but also threatening the very fabric of our oceans. Today, The Nature Conservancy, along with the support of a dozen of the world's top marine scientists, presented key findings and recommendations to tackle ocean acidification in the "Honolulu Declaration on Ocean Acidification and Reef Management," which was first introduced to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Kona, Hawai'i in late August, and presented today to delegates attending the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
The Nature Conservancy Logo"Coral reefs are at the heart of our tropics, and millions of people around the world depend on these systems for their livelihoods. Without urgent action to limit carbon dioxide emissions and improve management of marine protected areas, even vast treasured reefs like the Great Barrier Reef and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will become wastelands of dead coral," said Lynne Hale, director of The Nature Conservancy's Marine Initiative.
Ocean acidification is the change in ocean chemistry driven by the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other chemical compounds released into the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs approximately one-third of the CO2 in the atmosphere, which then combines with seawater to form carbonic acid that lowers the pH of the oceans and disrupts marine ecosystems and species.
In July 2008, scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Florida declared acidification as the largest and most significant threat that oceans face today and conveyed that coral reefs will be unable to survive the projected increases in ocean acidification, leading to potentially massive coral loss that would cause severe declines in the abundance and diversity of fish and other marine species and damage the global economies dependent on ocean health and productivity.
In fact, current estimates show that we could lose all coral reefs by the end of the century - or, in the worst case scenario, possibly decades sooner.
"The reefs of the world are at risk, and are especially vulnerable to the rapidly emerging stress brought on by climate change," said Paul Marshall, Climate Change Program manager of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. "Recognizing the potential irreversibility of ocean acidification impacts, it has never been more imperative to improve the management and adaptability of coral reef ecosystems."
Responding to this challenge, the Conservancy convened a group of leading climate and marine scientists and coral reef managers from around the globe in early August of this year for a workshop in Honolulu to chart a course of action to address ocean acidification.
Hale and Marshall noted that this landmark "meeting of minds" created a solid foundation for a new era of coral reef conservation, and that action steps proposed by the group, if enacted, will help to save coral reefs from escalating destruction. Two major strategies emerged as the backbone of the Declaration resulting from the workshop:
Limit fossil fuel emissions - stabilization of atmospheric CO2 is the most logical step to address ocean acidification impacts; and
Build the resilience of tropical marine ecosystems and communities to maximize their ability to resist and recover from climate change impacts, including ocean acidification.