The 7 Harmful Effects of Ocean Acidification

Environmental issues get a lot of attention in the news. However, it’s rare for this to actually go into any depth. But in this article we’ll examine one of the most severe environmental issues. We’ll look at the top effects of ocean acidification.

The scope ranges from the past all the way to the future. However, we’ll rank these items by how much impact they should have on people’s lives. This helps emphasise where action can be particularly important.

1. Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction Event

This ranks lower due to the timeframe. We’re looking back by around 252 million years. But the permian-triassic mass extinction event provides a cautionary tale about ocean acidification.

The majority of ocean acidification happens as a result of man made pollution. But 252 million years ago mass volcanic activity created extreme levels of carbon dioxide. This, in turn, resulted in extreme ocean acidification.

The end effect showcases a worst case scenario for ocean acidification. It wiped out a full 90% of marine life. And this, in turn, killed off two thirds of life on land. It offers up a rare example of what happens if people don’t take care of pollution right now.

With most other types of environmental damage we’re left with theory. But we know what happens in cases of extreme ocean acidification. It demonstrates just how harmful it can be.

2. Damage to Coral Reefs

Bleached Acropora coral and normal colony

One of the biggest effects of ocean acidification involves calcium. For humans, calcium is all about providing strong and healthy bones. When doctors remind people to get enough milk or dairy it’s usually due to calcium.

But this is a comparatively minor issue compared to how calcium impacts coral. Coral is a huge component of reef building coral. It’s partially about building up new structures in the first place. But another significant issue comes about from inability to repair damage.

3. Damage to the Great Barrier Reef

The previous item dealt with coral in general. But the Great Barrier Reef is important enough to deserve separate attention. The Great Barrier Reef is the single largest organic structure on earth. It extends for around 133,000 sq miles. So large that it’s visible from space.

One can easily imagine how much wear and tear something of that size experiences on a day to day basis. In fact, a single incident destroyed an estimated 2/3rds of the Great Barrier Reef’s northern area.

That kind of repair takes a huge amount of calcium. But even for an area actively protected by humans it’s difficult. In fact, many scientists feel that it’s in a terminal state. This is, in turn, potentially catastrophic for species which depend upon it as their natural environment.

4. Disruption of the Marine Food Chain

ocean acidification and its effect on marine life

The food chain describes one of the most basic foundations of life. Sunlight comes in and nourishes plants. Small animals are able to thrive by eating plants. And both carnivores and omnivores eat those small animals.

Of course there’s exceptions that general rule. There’s certainly some large animals which only eat plants. But in general, this serves as a good way to visualize how the food chain operates. However, it’s surprisingly fragile.

If something happens to the foundation of the food chain than everything supported by it fails as well. And this is exactly what’s happening in the ocean. The changes in pH balance are especially rough on smaller life forms. But their death makes it much harder for larger forms of life to get food. And this creates a chain effect that has a huge impact on every form of life in the ocean.

5. Human Food Supply

People often assume that store bought fish comes from artificial marine farms. This process, called marine aquaculture, has a lot in common with terrestrial agriculture. The basic concept is the same. But the difficulty is quite different.

This is also why the effects of ocean acidification are so worrisome for humanity’s diets. We’re simply not at a point where it’s easy to raise fish from larval stages. There’s the occasional exception. But for the most part people need to actually go out onto the water to get fish.

And when ocean acidification hurts that population than humanity’s food supply becomes damaged as well. This is especially worrisome given that fish are such an important source of nutrients.

6. Oceanic Calcification


Ocean acidification and calcification

The effects of ocean acidification on oceanic life should be clear by now. It’s obviously a very negative element for anything which lives in the water. But perhaps the most direct causal relationship comes from oceanic calcification.

The discussion on reefs did touch on oceanic calcification. But it impacts every form of life in the ocean. Anyone who’s had a broken bone can attest to how much of an impact it has. The issues with mobility are obvious. But that’s in a species which weathers it at an optimal level.

Humans have medical care to take care of bone problems. And on top of that people also usually have an optimal amount of dietary calcium intake. One can imagine how rough it’d be for someone who lacked both calcium and medical care.

But that’s the situation caused by ocean acidification. The process impairs calcium generation within oceanic species. And this in turn creates issues for adult specimens. But worse, it makes it much more difficult for marine life to go from larval to adult stages at all.

7. Hypercapnia

This is easily the most intimidating item on the list on a purely empathetic level. Hypercapnia refers to CO2 induced acidification of body fluids. Basically, it makes a fish’s blood become too acidic.

Obviously not too acidic for basic functions. But just because an organism can stay alive with elevated acidity doesn’t mean that they’ll function well.

It creates a situation where the vast majority of a marine population can be thought of as continually near death. Sickly organisms hardly able to function. This often comes along with other effects of ocean acidification. The end result is mass loss of fish life and biodiversity.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, it’s quite clear that ocean acidification poses a significant risk. However, looking at the effects of ocean acidification shows one recurring theme. A huge amount of it is simply due to human involvement. And what humans have damaged humans can also fix.

That’s why it’s so important to share this information with others. Along with talking with them about ways we can all work together to make the oceans a healthier environment.

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