Ocean acidification and The Great Barrier Reef

Ocean acidification has recently become a prominent problem around the world; however it has actually been occurring since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Only now that we are starting to see the effects of what ocean acidification does to our ecosystems are we as a race trying to combat the implications.

The basic science behind ocean acidification is that the CO2 that is produced via man made processes is released into the atmosphere and is then absorbed into the oceans through bonding forming carbonic acid. The formation of this acid releases a bicarbonate ion and a hydrogen ion as excess, meaning the H+ ions binds with the free carbonate ions in the water forming more and more bicarbonate ions as a domino effect. (Australian Government, 2012)

The carbonate called aragonite that binds would normally be used by organisms in the ocean such as corals but other calcifying marine animals to build their own skeletons or shells. (Australian Government, 2012)

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One of the most affected areas is all along the East coast of Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef. It has been documented that over 3,581 separate coral reefs have seen effects of acidification, some of which are so advanced they are at a state that was predicted by the end of this century. After extensive research on the reef at the corals it has been found that the increasing acidity of the water only become detrimental when the skeletons of the corals start to dissolve at a faster rate than they can build. (R. Piddock, 2016)

A recent study has found that 69 of the thousands of reefs within the Great Barrier Reef’s building rate has decreased by around 42% since previously stated in the 1960’s however what is not always mentioned is is that not all of the reefs start off as healthy as others. It has also been estimated that the corals only cover around 20% – 30% of the reef. (R. Piddock, 2016)

The oceans are still alkali, but are increasing in acidity as the pH continues to drop and are predicted to drop between another 0.2 – 0.4 units by the end of the century. Ocean acidification is linked to other natural processes such as climate change which leads to warmer and rising waters consequently contributing to coral bleaching, pollution, disease and invasive species an example on the the East coast of Australia being the Crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). (R. Piddock, 2016)

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Different processes are being tested as to which would be the most effective in helping combat ocean acidification. One of these is 3D printing coral reefs and implementing them in the reefs with materials that allow the different species to grow around them and other fish species to continue using them as habitats and nurseries.

Useful links:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/video/news/could-3d-printing-save-our-reefs/vi-BBvUqpo

References:

Piddock, R. (2016) Ocean acidification: Decline of great barrier reef likely to be worse than feared. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/ocean-acidifiction-decline-of-great-barrier-reef-likely-to-be-worse-than-feared (Accessed: 12 February 2017).

Government, A. (2012) Impacts of ocean acidification on the reef. Available at: http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/how-climate-change-can-affect-the-reef/ocean-acidification (Accessed: 12 February 2017).

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