News Release

Stop our oceans souring

11 December 2009
An explosion of marine life surrounds healthy coral reefs in the Philippine's Verde Island Passage. Photo © Sterling Zumbrunn/Conservation International.

Copenhagen, Denmark – Deep and immediate cuts in emissions are needed to stall ocean acidification and prevent mass extinction of marine species, food insecurity and serious damage to the world economy, according to IUCN.

Released today at UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen, ‘Ocean acidification – the facts’ takes stock of the latest science on oceans acidification and spells out the steps that are urgently needed to stop its acceleration.

Increased release of CO₂ in the atmosphere is making seawater more acidic and is threatening ecosystems and species precious for our food and economy. It is also reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb CO₂ and regulate climate. Previous episodes of ocean acidification were linked to mass extinctions of some species, and it is reasonable to assume that this episode could have the same consequences. There can be little doubt that the ocean is undergoing dramatic changes that will impact many human lives now and in coming generations, unless we act quickly and decisively.

“Ocean acidification can be best described as the evil twin of climate change,” says Dan Laffoley, lead editor of the guide, Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and member of Natural England’s Chief Scientist’s team. “We have used story-telling to paint a picture of the many ways in which ocean acidification may alter how the ocean works – given the possible far-reaching consequences we hope this guide acts as a wake-up call to decision makers to place the ocean centre stage in climate discussions and conclusions."

The ocean provides about half of the Earth’s natural resources and humankind takes direct advantage of this through our fisheries and shellfisheries. The ocean also absorbs 25 per cent of all the carbon dioxide we emit each year, and produces half the oxygen we breathe.

Ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since industrialization began 250 years ago. If CO₂ levels in the atmosphere continue to rise, sea water acidity could increase by 120 percent by 2060 – greater than anything experienced in the past 21 million years. By 2100, 70 per cent of cold water corals may be exposed to corrosive water.

Given the lag between CO₂ emissions and a stabilization of acidification, it could take tens of thousands of years before the ocean’s properties are restored and even longer for full biological recovery. This demands immediate and substantial emissions cuts and technology that actively removes CO₂.

“There is an increasingly real and very urgent need to dramatically cut emissions. The ocean is what makes Earth habitable and different from anywhere else we know in our solar system and beyond – now’s the time to act to minimise the impacts on our life support system while we still have time,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

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