5 Radical Ways to Fight Ocean Acidification

An Australian report on our ever-warming oceans says the time is now: ‘We don’t have 20 to 30 years...’

Commercial fishermen and other mariners form the words "Acid Ocean" during an event held to spread the message about ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions, in Homer, Alaska, September 6, 2009. (Photo: Lou Demattei/Getty Images)

Aug 28, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

As marine biologists continue to search for ways to stem ocean acidification—perhaps the greatest peril to our seas' health—they are starting to turn to unconventional, proactive tactics.

How big is the problem of ocean acidification, known as "the evil twin" of global warming, both of which are caused by CO2 emissions? What is known is that this global problem is killing off coral reefs and shellfish, impacting growth of seaweed, phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish and contributing to warmer temperatures. Every year about one-third of all CO2 emissions—the equivalent of 24 million tons—falls straight into the ocean. Picture it this way: That's like dropping 24 million Volkswagen bugs into the ocean.

Reducing the impact of all that CO2 on the ocean is the goal of scientists around the globe. At the University of Queensland, Australia, marine biologists recently issued a biting report, published in Nature Climate Change, suggesting that national and international policies to counter the impacts of CO2 simply aren't working.

MORE: Ocean Acidification: The Climate Change Disaster You Didn't Know Existed

Instead, it came up with a short list of aggressive tactics that might help. While stretching the bounds of previous experiments, they include:

1) Use shade to protect corals from the heat stress that leads to coral bleaching and death, by using ropes to anchor cloths on the water surface to protect coral from sunlight.

2) Help nature adapt through protecting culturing and selective breeding.

3) Use low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate coral growth and defend against the stress of a warming ocean.

4) Manage ocean acidity by adding base materials like carbonates and silicates to try and neutralize it.

5) Convert CO2 from land-based waste into dissolved bicarbonates that could be added to the ocean to enhance alkalinity.

It's hard to imagine such tactics working on a global scale, but perhaps it would in smaller, local applications. The most-pressing suggestion of the report is that the time to act is now, since we don't have 20 to 30 years to ponder.

Aggressiveness is the name of the game, largely because the problem is growing faster than anyone could have predicted. According to the Queensland report, if current trends continue, by 2050 atmospheric CO2 is expected to increase more than 80 percent above pre-1750 levels, putting trillions of dollars of the worldwide economy at risk.

"The rate of increase has few, if any, parallels in the past 300 million years of the Earth's history," warned the report's authors.

Do you think ocean acidification is an urgent issue that should be given more attention?