Saving deep water requires digging deep into our habits
The Wildlife Forecast
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke
Many of us Floridians don't like to go too long
without getting a whiff of salt air. Even those of us living inland
are always within an hour or two of one coast or another. We take
our lovely white-sand beaches, crystal clear blue water and clear
skies dotted with fluffy white clouds for granted.
At least we took them for granted until April 20.
On that day, the dire possibility of oiled wildlife and
petroleum-covered beaches loomed as the explosion from the
Deepwater Horizon oil rig reverberated through economic and
Now that the gushing oil well has been capped, we
breathe a sigh of cautious celebration. But our dependence on
fossil fuels still comes at a high cost.
The carbon dioxide emissions created from burning
fossil fuels do more than change our climate. They also cause a
phenomenon known as ocean acidification. While scientists debate
the severity of climate change, most can look at the data and agree
that the increase in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide levels impacts
"Ocean acidification and climate change share a
common insidious influence," said Bob Glazer, a biologist with the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and a
co-leader of the FWC's climate change research and monitoring
working group. "They are both caused by the increases in carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere."
The process of ocean acidification does not mean
the ocean is turning into a boiling cauldron of acid. It refers to
changes in the water because of the additional carbon dioxide from
The U.S. Geological Survey's website explains the
process of ocean acidification. Even though the ocean serves as a
natural reservoir for carbon dioxide, increasing carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere and the resulting uptake by the ocean results in
increased seawater acidity. This process results in a decrease in
the ocean's pH.
NOAA's State of the Science Fact Sheet on ocean
acidification states oceans have absorbed approximately 50 percent
of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels, which has
increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent since the start of the
Industrial Revolution. Even small changes in the acidity of
seawater can have dramatic effects on sea life, which may
- Decreased rate of the production of coral skeletons.
- Reduction in the ability of marine algae and free-swimming
zooplankton to maintain protective shells.
- Reduction in the survival of marine species, including
commercial fish and shellfish.
"The health of the oceans is essential to the
marine life it supports as well as to the atmosphere," Glazer said.
"The proper balance within the seawater regulates carbon dioxide,
the production of oxygen, the cycling of nitrogen and other
important nutrients, and affects processes such as cloud formation.
It is all a fragile balancing act."
The increase in ocean acidification adds more
stress to ecosystems already stressed by human activities. The FWC
and other wildlife managers know that addressing this issue
requires reducing those stresses over which we have better
"For example, we can reduce pollution and runoff
from land, develop wise coastal zoning regulations, eliminate
destructive fishing practices and restore ecosystem integrity,"
Glazer said. "These approaches increase the health of ecosystems
and are just good management practices; period."
For every tragedy that occurs, such as the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, opportunity exists for re-evaluation
If I shorten the length of my shower, I won't
change a thing. But if 18 million people in Florida collectively
commit to doing at least one thing in their daily lives that will
lessen their dependence on fossil fuel consumption, we might stand
a chance at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Some of these things will even be good for our
wallets as well as the environment. You've heard them all before,
but it doesn't hurt to have reminders, especially today. Turning
off the lights when you leave the room will lower electric bills by
not burning electricity and not pumping out more heat into the
room. When an old bulb burns out, replace it with a compact
fluorescent light bulb. These last longer and use less energy. The
cost of the bulbs is coming down, too. I bought a package of six
recently for $2 each. Start there for now. Then, next month, try a
few more changes. Soon we'll all be substantially impacting life
both above and below the sea.