Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere increased at record speed in 2016 according to The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual report.
While this is bad news for the future of humanity, it’s presently much worse news for marine creatures that have shells.
The UN study found carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialisation.
The planet last experienced similar CO2 concentration rates three million years ago when the sea level was 20 metres higher than now.
About a quarter to a third of all carbon dioxide emissions from our cars and factories are absorbed by the Earth’s oceans. Much of it becomes stored in ocean plants but CO2 that isn’t used by plants tends to dissolve in the sea. The result is a more acidic ocean and over the past 250 years, ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent.
Species with shells, such as oysters, lobsters and mussels are first in line to experience the negative consequences of this acidity. The corrosive acidic waters can dissolve the shells of juveniles, shells become thinner, growth slows down and death rates rise.
We could see coral reefs, already massively effected due to the ocean’s changing chemistry, become extinct in 50 years.
A threat to shellfish and coral reef is a threat to the entire marine food web. And, amongst other things, is a threat to the 1.5 billion people that rely on the sea for food.