The ocean food chain is at risk from carbon-caused acidification; healthier oceans and coasts could help absorb excess, planet-warming carbon
by Craig Weatherby

You may have heard about the grave threat that civilization's carbon emissions pose to the ocean food chain via acidification of the seas.

But we hadn't thought about the flip side of the carbon coin.

Healthy oceans and coastal ecosystems also serve as “carbon sinks” that can be key allies in the fight against rapid global warming.

Monday's New York Times presented an Op-Ed essay by British marine scientist Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, titled “To Save the Planet, Save the Seas.

It's an enlightening read, as these excerpts attest (Laffoley D 2009):
  • “…in addition to producing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean absorbs some 25 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Half the world's carbon stocks are held in plankton, mangroves, salt marshes and other marine life.
  • “These healthy plant habitats help meet the needs of people adapting to climate change, and they also reduce greenhouse gases by storing carbon dioxide.
  • “Worldwide, coastal habitats like these are being lost because of… land reclamation and fish farming, while coastal pollution and overfishing have further damaged habitats and reduced the variety of species.
  • “…following the example of the forests program, it will be possible to establish formulas for compensating countries that preserve essential carbon sinks in the oceans.”
We encourage you to read the rest of Laffoley's timely essay.

Carbon is killing crustaceans and reefs critical to fish
The accelerating danger of ocean acidification is detailed in the moving documentary “A Sea Change,” which debuted last March at the Smithsonian Museum.

While clarifying the crisis, the film features gorgeous ocean footage and the intimate story of a Norwegian-American family whose heritage is bound up with the sea.

Ocean acidity has increased almost one-third since the mid-1800's and the rate of acidification will accelerate in the coming decades, according to a new guide launched at the UN Copenhagen Climate Change summit earlier this month.

Carbon-caused ocean acidification can spell disaster for the marine food chain… with dire consequences for fishing communities as well as human health and nutrition.

We urge you to learn more about this overlooked crisis.

Like global warming, ocean acidification will alter the world as we know it... but with far greater certainty that the changes will be bad for everyone, everywhere.

  • Laffoley D. To Save the Planet, Save the Seas. The New York Times. December 28, 2009. Accessed at