The Threat of Ocean Acidification

The Threat of Ocean Acidification

What is Ocean Acidification and its Impacts? 


social media intern

The oceans on this planet are facing a profound threat: ocean acidification. It poses a crucial risk to the delicate balance of life within marine ecosystems and to their structure. In this article, we will discuss the complex process of ocean acidification including what it is, what causes it, and the far-reaching implications it has for marine life. 

“Due to climate change, the ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive today.”

The United Nations 

But What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, a significant portion of it is absorbed by the oceans, forming carbonic acid. This acidification process disrupts the chemical equilibrium of seawater, leading to lower pH levels and higher acidity.

The primary driver of ocean acidification is the burning of fossil fuels, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere. This excess CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, altering their chemical composition. Deforestation, industrial processes, and other human activities also contribute to the problem.

Coral Reefs in Peril: Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. The increased acidity inhibits the ability of corals to build their calcium carbonate skeletons, leading to weaker, more brittle structures. Putting entire reef ecosystems at risk; threatening the multitude of marine species that depend on them for habitat and food.

Disruption of Food Webs: As foundational species like plankton and shellfish struggle to survive due to ocean acidification, entire marine food webs can be disrupted. This has far-reaching consequences for marine organisms at all levels, including commercially important fish species.

Biodiversity Loss: The cumulative effects of ocean acidification, combined with other stressors like pollution and overfishing, can lead to biodiversity loss and reduced resilience in marine ecosystems. This loss of biodiversity can disrupt ecosystem services that support human communities as well.

How does Ocean Acidification impact Marine Life?

Shellfish and Calcium Carbonate: Ocean acidification disrupts the availability of carbonate ions. Many marine organisms, such as molluscs and shellfish, require carbonate ions to build their shells and skeletons. Weakened shells make these creatures more susceptible to predation and disease, with potential ripple effects throughout the food chain.

Effects on Fish Behavior and Sensory Systems: Studies suggest that ocean acidification can affect fish behavior, including their ability to navigate, locate prey, and avoid predators. Altered sensory perception could impact the survival and reproductive success of fish populations.

But what can we do to help?

While the challenge of ocean acidification is significant, there are actions that can be taken to mitigate its impacts:

Reducing CO2 Emissions. The most effective long-term solution is to curb greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2. This can be through sustainable energy practices, reduced fossil fuel consumption, and afforestation.

Sustainable Fishing Practices. Managing fisheries sustainably helps maintain the balance of marine ecosystems and reduces additional stress on vulnerable species.

Marine Protected Areas. Establishing and maintaining marine protected areas helps preserve critical habitats, offering safe spaces for marine life to thrive.

Research and Monitoring. Continuous research and monitoring efforts are essential for understanding the effects of ocean acidification. Greater understanding of the impact of ocean acidification will help us in devising effective strategies to combat it.

A Summary of Ocean Acidification

In conclusion, ocean acidification is a pressing issue with widespread consequences for marine life and the ecosystems we depend on. By addressing its root causes and implementing sustainable practices, we can work towards protecting our oceans and preserving the intricate web of life they support. As stewards of the Earth, we have the power to make a positive impact and ensure the health and vitality of our oceans for generations to come.

Want to learn more?

Global issue of Coral Bleaching

Global issue of Coral Bleaching

The Global issue of Coral Bleaching

Imagine this, you are on vacation and pay good money to scuba dive in the wonders of the sea. You are thrilled to see an abundance of the world below us, filled with happy ecosystems, baby sea turtles, huge sharks and incredible colors. To your surprise, the ocean lacks its beauty and majestic glow. The coral isn’t its vibrant, healthy self but instead decaying and dull. There are far less fish and aquatic plants than expected, and instead you find yourself surrounded in a never-ending vast blue, longing for the return of a lively reef.

Unpleased and disappointed, you question what happened and how you can help, thankfully the Marine Conservation Costa Rica (MCCR) is actively striving to educate and take action.

What is Coral Bleaching?

Due to global warming increasing the temperature of the sea, coral eject zooxanthellae, (the symbiotic algae that lives in most hard corals and provides the coral with most of its energy to build reefs). With the zooxanthellae gone, the coral’s beautiful colors fade and turn white. This process is called coral bleaching.

The good news is the loss of color does not mean the coral has died, it is still alive and can survive a bleaching but undergoes stress and is much more vulnerable. Coral can recover from bleaching if the ocean’s previous conditions return to normal, and zooxanthellae in reabsorbed. By adapting to a lifestyle focused on reducing global warming, we will help regrow those reefs and see them thrive again.

coral bleaching

How Global Warming Hurts Coral

Global warming has become a widespread issue across the world, and unfortunately the ocean has been the number one victim. The sea life thrives in a specific climate and temperature range, with little to no wiggle room. When the ocean begins to warm up, even just a couple of degrees, living organisms struggle to survive. Thus, leaving the coral lifeless with only the calcium carbonate skeleton remaining. Now what was once a lush and thriving community of organisms is a bare and lifeless area of sand and coral skeletons.

Pavona gigantea - Corals of Costa Rica

Why does Coral Matter?

Coral may look like a simple plant, however, it is actually a sessile animal that relies on the oceans floor and algae to thrive. A healthy reef provides an entire community for its residents to live, eat and be protected. It is home to millions of varied species like fish, algae, crab, clams, seahorses and turtles. Without it, essentials like food, shelter, and biodiversity would become scarce resulting in food-web changes and relocating or dying of needed species.

How are we Affected?

The health of coral is significant to the health of our earth and humans. Since coral reefs are the center for ecosystems in the ocean and supply the food chains, we are losing food too. For us, they are vital for feeding many coastal populations of people since they provide us with most of the seafood we eat.

Furthermore, coral reefs play a significant role in protecting our precious coastlines and beaches. During the time of storms or natural disasters like hurricanes, the reefs act as a barrier to protect land from flooding and erosion.

Coral reef research

Simultaneously, coral reefs do an excellent job of storing carbon dioxide, which aids in the regulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. As you can see, coral reefs hold many responsibilities to organisms of all levels.

Just as we rely on coral reefs, they are dependent on us! It is now our turn to take a closer look at how we as humans are treating our wonderful corals and helping rebuild their sustainability in the natural world.

Respect the coral reefs.

Written by Danielle Brittle

A Deep Dive into Reefs: Why Protecting Corals Advocates for Human Survival

A Deep Dive into Reefs: Why Protecting Corals Advocates for Human Survival

Pavona gigantea - Corals of Costa Rica

Coral reefs in Peril

Coral reefs, polar bears, pandas and sea turtles are adored across cultures and known as the poster children of climate change. While each of these organisms has a difficult journey of survival ahead, the ancient coral reefs have arguably been suffering degradation since the 70’s. Coral reefs have been around for some 50 million years, outliving the dinosaurs and witnessing the birth of all other forms of complex life. These organisms represent the beauty and interconnectivity of our world. They are the foundations of coastal ecosystems, their rainbow collages attracting a diverse interaction of plants and animals. Yet the recent decline and death of coral reefs sends a shocking message at what we risk to lose if business continues as usual.

Oceans Heating Up

It is common knowledge that ocean temperatures are heating up, and although this represents one of the many threats to these delicate structures it is far from being the only one. Corals are also affected by the pollutants that find their way into rivers and streams from pesticides used to maximize crop yield. In addition to these silent killers polluting the water cycle, habitat destruction from coastal construction and the overly extractive fishing industry threatens the health of reefs. Finally, maybe the most dangerous of all is our addiction to fossil fuel consumption and the smoky trail of carbon dioxide we humans leave in our backwash.

Although the ocean is able to absorb a quarter of carbon dioxide emitted, there are still consequences to our incessant gobbling. In this simmering hotbed our corals are surviving in, their first stress response is to dispel their food source, the algae. As they lose these plants and subsequently their coloration, the surrounding organisms also feel the loss as their food source depletes. The stressed corals turn a skeletal white, and as the bleaching continues, they eventually turn as gray as tombstones. 

bleached coral
coastal development

Pressure on the reefs

Though reefs thrive in coastal paradises where conditions are idyllic and picturesque, the beauty of these habitats is a double-edged sword. As demand for these utopias increases, so does the pollution and runoff from development and tourism. As more people develop in and around the tropics, the pollution which comes with development and human consumption also grows. With this logic, it is no surprise that coastal communities are among the first to feel the effects of climate change

While the climate crisis often-times feels like a looming catastrophe, protecting coral reefs would trigger a chain reaction in sustaining the local ecosystems both above and beneath the ocean.  The urgency needed to preserve the remaining survivors can be grasped by painting a stark picture of what our world risks to lose with the extinction of coral reefs. A coral-less future would mean 6 million reef fishers without work; a net loss of $9.6 billion dollars to the tourism industry; 1 million marine species with no place to live, spawn, or feed; coastal communities with no natural protection against storms, tsunamis, flooding, and erosion; not to mention the incalculable loss of potentially life-saving medicines researchers discover in these underwater medicine cabinets (Basic Information About Coral Reefs). In short, our world without corals is hardly even a world at all. What are we without the very life that supports our human existence? 

coral bleaching
dead coral reefs

Dark situation

With less than 50% of coral reefs already dead, these submerged skeletons serve as a foreboding message: to save the coral reefs is to save ourselves.We are at a crucial moment in history, and our response to  the climate crisis is pivotal, but passivity is the most dangerous option of all. 

Although our current situation may feel dark, resilience is our silver lining. Coral restoration projects are underway across the globe helping to stabilize reefs. Restoration efforts assist in maintaining the base populations of coral species, giving more time for corals to adapt to changing conditions. This type of recovery work, however, will not restore reefs to their pristine state. Instead it buys time for the corals to adapt. That being said, restoration is most effective in conjunction with fishing quotas, Marine Protected Areas, and individual actions. 

coral internship

So what can you do?

That being said, there is a wide range of behaviors you can do that can reduce your negative impact on our planet. The following list includes suggested actions that the coral reefs, polar bears, pandas, and sea turtles need from all of us:


  1. Participate in Coral Restoration

– Take part in a Coral Internship 

– Enhance your knowledge of marine life with a Coral Reef Research Certification

  1. Be a conscious tourist

– Use Reef Friendly sunscreen 

– Be a Responsible Snorkeler and Scuba Diver: Never touch or harm corals/marine life 

  1. Support environmentally friendly companies 

–  Purchase organic products 

– Buy from sustainable fisheries (or avoid eating animal products altogether!) 

  1. Measure and manage your impact

Calculate your carbon footprint

– Practice zero waste living and stop using plastic bags!

  1. Raise awareness 

– Talk with your family, friends, and coworkers about the climate crisis

– Establish sustainability action groups in your school/work and come up with solutions in your own communities


Written by Anna Patton

Anna Love is a writer, biologist, advocate, massage therapist, and scuba diver. She writes about environmental movement, healing work, and science fiction. When she is not playing sand volleyball or reading, you can likely find her practicing handstands or meditating. —
Anna Lovelace Patton

More From This Category


Climate anxiety – What is it and what can you do about it?

Climate anxiety – What is it and what can you do about it?

Climate anxiety? What are your plans for the next six years? Graduate college, travel the world, get a puppy, buy a house, get married, build a garden, start a new job, have a child, or maybe two? Six years is such a long time! Time that can be spent creating beautiful moments. But what if you had to fit the rest of your life in the next six years—six years and 317 days to be exact. How short would six years feel then? Would you live your life differently? If you had the opportunity to add more time to these six years, would you make smarter, more ethical, and sustainable decisions? 

climate clock

Climate Clock

The climate clock hangs high in Berlin, and New York City, counting down “how long it will take, at current rates of emissions, to burn through our ‘carbon budget’ — the amount of CO2 that can still be released into the atmosphere while limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is our deadline, the time we have left to take decisive action to keep warming under the 1.5°C threshold.” (Climate Clock) 

While the clock does bring needed attention, is not always positive.The countdown may bring awareness to the climate crisis and encourage sustainable living, but does the oversaturation in the news increase a sense of impending doom? That no matter how much plastic you stop using, the meat you stop eating, or the numerous protests you attend, nothing will make enough significance to reverse this ticking time bomb. If you feel stress or grief around the current climate crisis, you are probably experiencing “climate anxiety,” “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis” (Psychology Today).

If you are someone who experiences climate anxiety and is feeling a little lost or scared, try not to worry. You are not alone. There is an entire community experiencing the same feelings. As someone who experiences climate anxiety myself, I would like to share some useful tips to help lessen your anxiety. 

Make adjustments

I’ve made adjustments to my daily living so I can leave a positive impact on my planet. If you have not already, start by lessening your plastic and meat intake, use your car less and public transport more, and switch off your lights and water as often as possible. 

“But I already do all of this, and it does not feel like enough.” 

While your individual acts are extremely important, I can understand those small changes might not feel overly impactful. Let me remind you that your small acts are making a huge difference, so take pride in that! Keep up the good work, and share your knowledge with those around you. Also remember, it is not the individual person that is having the greatest negative impact on our planet. It is the large-scale corporations that cause detrimental environmental damage. We need to continue holding them accountable. 

Fast fashion

fast fashion

You can start by limiting how much you shop from fast fashion companies. Fast fashion, “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”,is a massive polluter, creating cheap clothing, at the expense of underpaid workers. Clothes not meant to last to the next season end up in our landfills. Fast fashion produces excessive amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and pollutes our waters with dyes and chemicals. 

Support small, ethical businesses and most importantly shop second-hand whenever possible. 

Try buying groceries from local farmers and markets whenever possible. Corporate farms tear down large sections of forest to make room for livestock, among other harmful practices. I would also recommend shopping organic to avoid harmful pesticides. The use of these chemicals overflows to waterways and is harmful to fish. 

When these practices aren’t an option, look for companies that have green policies—companies that pledge to offset their carbon footprint, or create products that are environmentally friendly. 

Your voice is your greatest strength. Hold corporations accountable for their actions. We need to demand sustainable initiatives, and if companies refuse to upgrade, then we must take our business elsewhere. 

Be positive

It can be extremely anxiety-inducing to have no idea what our future is going to look like. Especially when countdowns like the Climate Clock can make us feel like we are running out of time. I want to encourage you to look at this situation as “glass half full”, we have six years. Six years to change our daily practices. To live a zero-waste lifestyle, to stop eating meat, to buy only from small, local, sustainable businesses, and to stop supporting large corporations. Six years to reverse the damages done to our planet. We still have the chance to encourage change and make a difference. We have the opportunity to be the change we want to see in this world. 

Written by Karley Feather – MCCR Media & Conservation Intern