Ongoing acidification of our oceans is threatening our marine life and ocean-based food security and the potentially dire effects of this trend are not properly understood, largely due to a lack of research and observing capacities.
That was the consensus of 40 experts who gathered in Phuket, Thailand from 19-21 January 2015 to determine concrete actions they could take to help clarify and publicize the threats posed by ocean acidification, as well as to advance regional research capabilities and encouraging long-term monitoring of this trend in the Western Pacific and adjacent regions.
Geological records show that the ocean is becoming more acidic at rates not seen in the last 50 million years. Chief to blame for this staggering increase in acidity is its absorption of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the industrial revolution.
Recent studies have shown the harmful effects of acidification on ocean-based food security as the lower pH levels make it more difficult for marine calcifying organisms, such as corals, molluscs and calcareous plankton, to form biogenic calcium carbonate (build shells and skeletons). And existing calcium carbonate structures become vulnerable to dissolution.
Such radical shifts in marine ecosystems could spell major losses in biodiversity and put into peril important ecosystem services upon which humans depend for food security, livelihoods and coastal protection.
The implications of this shift in our oceans are immense in this region. The Western Pacific and adjacent regions are among the richest and most productive in the world in terms of marine life, home to more than 600 coral species (more than 75% of all known coral species) and 53% of the world’s coral reefs. Moreover, most Southeast Asian coastal communities are socially and economically dependent upon coral reef ecosystems and an estimated 70-90% of fish caught in Southeast Asia are dependent on coral reefs. Globally it has been estimated that coral reefs support more than 25% of all known marine species.
Unfortunately the effects of ocean acidification on organisms and ecosystems remain poorly understood, with most of our knowledge based on simplified laboratory experiments.
More research and long-term monitoring are critically needed to develop meaningful projection on future impacts of ocean acidification on the marine ecosystem, especially on coral reefs, in the region. Only then can resource and fisheries managers as well as policy-makers develop effective long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies for the region.
In this context, the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) convened the Phuket workshop with the aim to establish a regional research and monitoring network on ocean acidification in the Western Pacific and adjacent regions, and develop a regional program to monitor the impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems.
Through three days of intensive discussions, scientists exchanged information on existing and proposed ocean acidification monitoring and research efforts, as well as identified challenges and gaps. They also confirmed their mutual determination to synergize efforts in developing regional research and monitoring capacities.
Pilot sites have been selected as a starting point, with a view to analysing their current monitoring capacity, identifying monitoring methods and further considering the development of consistent, comparable and cost-effective “Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)”.