Latin American and Caribbean countries are at the forefront of the first effects of ocean acidification on people’s lives, was the key message of experts gathered at a meeting co-organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Santa Marta, Colombia, in early April.
Research suggests that rising seawater acidity is already impacting the ability of organisms, such as shellfish and corals, in the region to build shells and skeletons. This could undermine regional food security and livelihoods in Latin America and the Caribbean, the first regional meeting of the Ocean Acidification International Reference User Group (OaiRUG) heard.
All delegates, including HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, called for urgent action on ocean acidification. Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, said:
"Ocean acidification is a silent storm that is starting to have real impacts on people’s lives, together with pressures from overfishing and pollution, exacerbated by ocean warming and reduced oxygen levels. Latin American and Caribbean countries depend on the sea for food and livelihoods. Without significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, the effects of ocean acidification on this region could be catastrophic."
- Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are altering ocean chemistry, causing the acidity of seawater to rise.
- Caribbean islands have seen decreasing pH levels for the last 20 years, whilst seawater saturation of calcium carbonate, necessary for organisms such as corals and shellfish to build skeletons, has declined by approximately 3% per decade.
- In the colder waters of northern Chile, reduced shell calcification has been observed along with a 25% reduction in the growth rate of cultured scallops.
- In Patagonian waters, studies indicate that ocean acidification will reduce biomass production of mussel aquaculture by between 20 and 30%.
Captain Francisco Arias Isaza, General Director of the Colombian marine and coastal research institute Invemar, noted:
"It was very important to discover the scale of vulnerability of marine tropical, temperate and cold-water ecosystems present in the Americas, and also the complexities and the economic implications of ocean acidification in the region. This places an obligation on scientists, governments and civil society to work together to enhance the knowledge and propose actions to address this issue."