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Ocean acidification to trigger job losses, scientists warn

June 1, 2009
Courtesy Institute of Physics
and World Science staff

O­cean acidifica­t­ion, a re­sult of in­creased car­bon di­ox­ide emis­sions from hu­man ac­ti­vity, is set to change ocean ecosys­tems for­ev­er and may un­der­mine the glob­al econ­o­my, a new study warns.

In­ten­sive fossil-fuel burn­ing and de­for­esta­t­ion over the last two cen­turies have in­creased at­mos­pher­ic car­bon diox­ode lev­els by al­most 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Sar­ah Coo­ley and Scott Doney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic In­sti­tu­tion in Mas­sa­chu­setts.

O­cean acidifica­t­ion, a re­sult of in­creased car­bon di­ox­ide emis­sions from hu­man ac­ti­vity, is set to change ocean ecosys­tems for­ev­er and may un­der­mine the glob­al econ­o­my, a new study warns. (Im­age cour­tesy Calif. En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­sources Eval­u­a­tion Sys­tem)


That has in turn fun­da­men­tally al­tered ocean chem­is­try by acid­i­fy­ing sur­face wa­ters, the pair states. Fish lev­els and oth­er sea or­gan­isms such as plank­tons, crabs, lob­sters, shrimp and corals are ex­pected to suf­fer, which could leave fish­ing com­mun­i­ties at the brink of eco­nom­ic dis­as­ter.

Coo­ley and Doney’s anal­y­sis is pub­lished in the June 1 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search Let­ters. The sci­en­tists sug­gest a se­ries of meas­ures to man­age the im­pact that de­clin­ing fish­ing har­vests and rev­e­nue loss would have on a wide range of busi­nesses from com­mer­cial fish­ing to whole­sale, re­tail and restau­rants. 

Ocean acidifica­t­ion could dam­age corals and mol­lusks which all de­pend on suf­fi­cient car­bonate lev­els to form shells suc­cess­ful­ly, ac­cord­ing to the pair. Sub­se­quent losses of prey such as plank­ton and shell­fish would al­so al­ter food webs and in­ten­si­fy com­pe­ti­tion among preda­tors for food.

As har­vest­ing lev­els drop, job losses are likely to fol­low, Coo­ley and Doney warn. The sea­food in­dus­try is big busi­ness, bring­ing in large rev­e­nues and em­ploy­ing thou­sands. Sea­food sales at New York restau­rants sup­ported around 70,000 full-time jobs in 1999 alone, while U.S. do­mes­tic fish­er­ies pro­vid­ed a pri­ma­ry sale val­ue of $5.1 bil­lion in 2007. In that year, there were al­most 13,000 fish­er­men in the U.K. that har­vested £645 mil­lion of ma­rine prod­ucts, 43 per­cent of which was shell­fish.

“The world­wide po­lit­i­cal, eth­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nom­ic ram­ifica­t­ions of ocean acid­ifica­t­ion, plus its ca­pacity to switch ecosys­tems to a dif­fer­ent state fol­lowing rel­a­tively small per­turba­t­ions, make it a policy-relevant ‘tip­ping el­e­ment’ of the earth sys­tem,” Coo­ley and Doney write.

“Prepar­ing for ocean acidifica­t­ion’s ef­fects on ma­rine re­sources will cer­tainly be com­plex, be­cause it re­quires mak­ing decade-to-century plans for fish­er­ies, which are nor­mally man­aged over years to dec­ades, to re­spond to shorter-term eco­nom­ic and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors.” In or­der to com­bat the likely fu­ture de­cline in ocean spe­cies, the pair pro­posed, re­gion­al so­lu­tions such as flex­i­ble fish­ery man­agement plans, stud­ies of sea­wa­ter chem­is­try and sup­port for fish­ing com­mun­i­ties must be im­ple­mented now to ab­sorb in­ev­i­ta­ble changes
ahead

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Ocean acidification, a result of increased carbon dioxide emissions by human activity, is set to change ocean ecosystems forever and may undermine the global economy, a new study warns. Intensive fossil-fuel burning and deforestation over the last two centuries have increased atmospheric carbon dioxode levels by almost 40%, according to Sarah Cooley and Scott Doney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. That has in turn fundamentally altered ocean chemistry by acidifying surface waters, the pair states. Fish levels and other sea organisms such as planktons, crabs, lobsters, shrimp and corals are expected to suffer, which could leave fishing communities at the brink of economic disaster. Cooley and Doney’s analysis is published in the June 1 issue of the research journal Environmental Research Letters. The scientists suggest a series of measures to manage the impact that declining fishing harvests and revenue loss would have on a wide range of businesses from commercial fishing to wholesale, retail and restaurants. Ocean acidification could damage corals and mollusks which all depend on sufficient carbonate levels to form shells successfully, according to the pair. Subsequent losses of prey such as plankton and shellfish would also alter food webs and intensify competition among predators for food. As harvesting levels drop, job losses are likely to follow, Cooley and Doney warn. The seafood industry is big business, bringing in large revenues and employing thousands. Seafood sales at New York restaurants supported around 70,000 full-time jobs in 1999 alone, while U.S. domestic fisheries provided a primary sale value of $5.1 billion in 2007. In 2007, there were almost 13,000 fishermen in the UK that harvested £645 million of marine products, 43% of which was shellfish. “The worldwide political, ethical, social and economic ramifications of ocean acidification, plus its capacity to switch ecosystems to a different state following relatively small perturbations, make it a policy-relevant ‘tipping element’ of the earth system,” Cooley and Doney write. “Preparing for ocean acidification’s effects on marine resources will certainly be complex, because it requires making decade-to-century plans for fisheries, which are normally managed over years to decades, to respond to shorter-term economic and environmental factors.” In order to combat the likely future decline in ocean species, the pair proposed, regional solutions such as flexible fishery management plans, studies of seawater chemistry and support for fishing communities must be implemented now to absorb inevitable changes in the future.