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Ocean Acidification June 7, 2011

Posted by ToYourHealth in Global Health.
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carbonic acid, ocean acidification, indigenous people

Plankton stirred from ocean depths by two powerful currents off Patagonia

We’ve heard media coverage about ocean health and the delicate balance which relates it to human health. But the last big public push to make any difference was about 30 years ago, involving the cutting apart of plastic rings around soda pop or beer cans to prevent the deaths of cute sea animals and birds who were getting caught in them. These animals were fairly easy to photograph, pulled at our heartstrings, and it was simple enough to perform this one act to “save our oceans.” We certainly didn’t win the fight, as broken down plastics continue to be the number one pollutant of our seas, but now a larger battle looms with dire consequences.

Here’s the skinny on ocean acidification:
The increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere means more of it is being absorbed by the ocean. This is called carbonic acid and it is reducing the pH of the ocean, making it more acidic.

Ocean pH

Present day ocean pH

How much more acidic?
Before the burning of coal and oil, the acid levels were relatively stable over a period of 20 million years. Since the industrial revolution, however, a 30% increase has already occurred–a fairly swift change. By the year 2100, it is estimated to double or triple again.

What effects does this have?
The base layer of the food chain includes the marine lifeforms which grow shells and skeletons of calcium carbonate. Not just crustaceans and mollusks, but microscopic zooplankton which are the dietary staple of larger creatures. The increased acid dissolves their shells, or prevents it from growing altogether, resulting in their death. Death, too, works itself up the food chain. The pace of acidification does not allow these species time enough to evolve to their changing environments. Before long, we have a major disruption in marine ecosystems, and eventual collapse.

Sixty per cent of the world’s population lives along coastlines, with 30 million depending directly upon the sea for sustenance.

Interested charitable organizations such as Oceana report that controlling carbon dioxide emissions by humans and lobbying for policy change is the only way to manage this ocean problem. While it is a well-intentioned process and substantiated by scientific research, what would be the state of the oceans if we waited to see evidence of policy changes?

If we regard the earth as a reliable but delicate source which sustains us, our processes may alter slightly, but perhaps enough. From Worldwatch Institute, Guardians of the Land: Indigenous Peoples and the Earth:

…Around the world, where there are still indigenous peoples, you’ll usually find healthy ecosystems. And where there are healthy ecosystems, you’ll usually see indigenous communities…That’s true from the coastal swamps of South America to the sands of the Sahara, from the ice floes of the Arctic to the coral reefs of the South Pacific.

In fact, native cultures remain the day-to-day stewards of an area of the earth larger than all the world’s national parks and nature reserves put together.

Indigenous homelands also shelter a disproportionate share of the earth’s biological diversity…Native peoples maintain a body of knowledge about nature that continues to astonish Western-trained experts.

Now that we’ve run ourselves aground due to greed, we must take extra measures to give back. Will we choose to learn about the practice of sustainable living from native cultures? The health of our oceans could be our best indicator.

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