This post was written by Andreas Merkl, President and CEO, Ocean Conservancy. Having grown up on the banks of the Rhine River in industrial northern Germany, Andreas decided at the age of 10 to dedicate his life to conservation. With a background in environmental science, resource economics and business, Andreas is particularly interested in determining the ocean’s rightful role in answering the central question of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. Andreas is never happier than when he’s out on the water and is a passionate sailor and surfer and has dived most of the world’s oceans. Follow him on Twitter @AndreasMerkl.
The Ocean: Our Greatest Natural Resource
Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
Despite the fact that our planet is 70 percent water, it’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive. The ocean provides much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us.
The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a balanced way to ensure that life can thrive.
The ocean is resilient, and it will provide for us unless we forget about its vital role at the center of the biggest challenge of our time – how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us.
In every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources—our ability to manage our impacts on the ocean will make the crucial difference in sustaining the resources that we need to survive.
One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, forcing the ocean to absorb more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no doubt about this; it is a simple chemical process.
Overall there is no greater threat to life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.
Ocean acidification is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if carbon dioxide concentrations keep increasing at the current rate. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce the shells they need to survive, with dire consequences for the entire food chain.
At Ocean Conservancy, we’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat. We’re also working on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine.
The ocean is not just a victim—it must also be the part of the solution. Important decisions about how the ocean is used for fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s ability to sustain life. That’s why Ocean Conservancy is working with fishermen, shippers, drillers, oceanographers and others to transform ocean health.
Visit Ocean Conservancy’s website to learn more about why the ocean matters and how ocean acidification is affecting those who depend on the ocean for food and livelihoods. There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.
This entry reflects the author’s personal judgments and does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.