The World As We See It
2018, Middle School, Prose
Imagine that you are living in the world 100 years from now. You are witnessing the greatest destruction of all time where everything is being destroyed around you. Now think about how this all happened in the first place. Well, it is a problem that was caused by everyone that has lived on Earth. We are all part of this web of life. Scientists predict this problem will cause hotter weather, melting of ice caps, increased range of infectious diseases, more coastal erosion, and changes in the rainfall patterns. What is this horrendous problem? Ocean acidification is an enormous issue that affects everyone around the world. ocean acidification hurts the ecosystem and affects the food chain.
Many organisms in the web of life get affected by ocean acidification. In an email interview with Marine Biologist and Researcher Professor Tessa Hill, I was better able to understand the impact of and solutions to ocean acidification. Professor Hill’s interests include climate change, both past and present, and understanding the response of marine species to environmental stress in the Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay. I asked her about what the impact of ocean Acidification was on organisms living in the ocean. She replied, “In general, it impacts their ability to make shell material, so things like corals, oysters, mussels, etc., have a hard time making shells. They are weaker and more susceptible to a predator attacking them. We also see animals change their behavior under higher CO2 conditions.”
Also, I asked Professor Hill about how people inland are affected by ocean acidification. She responded, “I think that anyone who loves the ocean will want to help stop this process. If you like eating seafood, or visiting the shoreline, or going fishing, or visiting animals at an aquarium, all of these things will be impacted by acidification.” Even if you don’t live on the coast, you will be affected, just as any other person in this world, in a very drastic way. Don’t just take Professor Hill’s words for it. Scientists and environmentalists all around the world believe that everyone will be affected negatively in one way or another. In the words of Robert Redford, a famed environmentalist, “I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what would there be to defend” (Redford, 2011)?
What causes ocean acidification? In our everyday lives, we pump more and more carbon dioxide into the air. We do this by burning fossil fuels that increase both the amount of carbon dioxide in the air as well as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. About a third of all of this carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the ocean. The ocean helps slow global warming around the world because it absorbs a third of the carbon dioxide. The increased amount of carbon dioxide alters the chemistry of the marine water in the ocean. When carbon dioxide dissolves into the water, it forms carbonic acid. More and more carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the ocean, lowering the ph levels of the ocean by 0.1 or 0.2. People may believe that 0.1 or 0.2 does not matter to the ocean, but what they don’t realize is that the ph scale is logarithmic. This means that the ph level of 4 is 10 times more acidic than the ph level of 5 and the ph level of 3 is 100 times more acidic than the ph level of 5. This amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean is very harmful for some organisms, including organisms with calcium carbonate shells as well as corals. The increased amount of carbon dioxide and ph levels in the water affects all of the organisms in the world, including every human being.
What are the effects of ocean acidification? In a recent experiment headed by marine biologist Danielle Dixson, when scientists added carbon dioxide to the water, a species of sharks, called smooth dogfish, seemed to lose interest in hunting. Ocean acidification can also affect how well clownfish can see and hear, as well as snails being able to escape their main predator, the starfish. Danielle Dixson believes these changes in the behaviors of marine animals are caused by ocean acidification. The carbonic acid that is formed by the extra carbon dioxide in the water robs the ocean of the calcium carbonate that is needed by some organisms, like corals, mussels, oysters, and pteropods.
This does not just affect these organisms though; many organisms like salmon and whales have a diet that consists mainly on pteropods (Welch, 2007). If the pteropods die off, then many whales and salmon would die off, therefore shaking and breaking the whole marine food web. Even if one species dies off in the marine food web, the whole web is shaken pretty badly. As a result of ocean acidification, lots of organisms in the marine food web will die off, including coral, lobsters, crabs, oysters, mussels, and many more. With this harmful impact to the marine food web, it will be very hard for it to stabilize. The marine food web could ultimately break down, and we would have an ocean that would be totally destroyed. This would then affect everyone around the world because much of the economy of all countries is based on the organisms of the ocean. Ocean acidification affects not only the organisms of the sea, but “it has the potential to change the way humans feed themselves, earn their livings, run their communities, and live their lives” (Winner, 2013). No one is safe.
What can we as human beings, especially kids living on this Earth, do to help? One major contributor to ocean acidification is the burning of fossil fuels to get energy. I asked Professor Hill what the best way to tackle ocean acidification was. She replied, “Ultimately, the only way is to move away from using fossil fuels. That is the solution to the problem. There are lots of smaller things we can do while we are working on that – reduce our use of fossil fuels for transportation and energy, eat a lower carbon-footprint diet, and conserve habitats that ‘store’ carbon.”
Simple things like turning off the lights when you don’t need them will reduce the amount of electricity you use. Electricity is one type of energy that many people use too much of. The US Energy Information Administration stated that much of the energy used in every industry was a huge amount, though it has been decreasing in recent years. Have you heard of the saying “reduce, reuse, recycle”? This is something we all can do to make a small change in our carbon footprints. If we buy fewer products, we are reducing the amount of material a factory has to produce to make a new product. This is because we have just made the product in demand by buying it and basically stating that we like the product and want the store’s supply of that product replenished. If we buy reusable cloth bags, we are stopping a lot of plastic from going into the ocean. Scotland supermarkets have already implemented this animal-saving strategy. A tax was put on plastic bags on October 20, 2014, and the number of plastic bags used went down by 80 percent in those supermarkets in just one year. Clearly this shows that if we do not buy plastic bags, the demand will lessen and not nearly as many plastic bags will be made (BBC, October 2015).
Annie Crawley (a prominent underwater photographer and ocean advocate) states that all of the single-use plastics are the plastics that end up in the ocean and turn the ocean into water mixed with plastic too small to be cleaned out. All this plastic gets into marine organisms’ digestive systems and later could kill them. A study about how fish were killed by microplastics demonstrated that the young fish ate the microplastics (plastics broken down to small levels) instead of their real food source. This starves the fish, and the fish die off before reaching their reproductive stage. If you recycle, then factories don’t need to make new material; they can use the recycled products instead. Defeet Products has done just that, making socks out of recycled plastic water bottles (Products 2016).
On a personal level, if we are doing these things for the betterment of our planet Earth, we are not just minimizing ocean acidification impacts, we are also helping ourselves out and many more generations to come. As Leonardo DiCaprio argued for in his documentary Before the Flood about climate change, “We all have to do our part to raise awareness about global warming and the problems we as a people face in promoting a sustainable environmental future for our planet” (DiCaprio 2016).
Now let us imagine the image we looked at from a new and improved angle. All the countries in the world decide to ban plastic bags and rely totally on renewable energy and eliminate non-renewable energy. The people of Earth decide to become residents of a green planet and pick up trash and throw it away. The whole world uses items that are reusable like cloth bags. Everyone has solar panels on their houses and uses the sun to make energy. We now look 100 years into the future. The world has slowed global warming and ocean acidification. The future generations are enjoying their time on Earth and are following in our green footsteps. The Earth has become a better world as a whole. If we decide now to do this by using reusable bags and renewable energy, the world will become a better place. Scientists like Professor Tessa Hill are already working towards a better world for all: “We try to monitor what is happening in the ocean today. We also work on trying to understand whether coastal habitats like seagrass meadows might help fight climate change and acidification.” We, the residents of the Earth, can be the change in the world. Let oceans live and prosper!
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Crawley, Annie. “Refuse Single Use Plastics.” Refuse Single Use Plastics, Annie Crawley, 2015, www.anniecrawley.com/blog/refuse-single-use-plastic.
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Winner, Cherie. “The Socioeconomic Costs of Ocean Acidification.” Oceanus Magazine, WHOI, 8 Jan. 2010, www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/the-socioeconomic-costs-of-ocean-acidification.
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Products, Defeet. “Ride and Run Recycled.” Defeet Products, Defeet Products, 2016, www.defeet.com/recycled.
Bennett, Jennifer. “Ocean Acidification.” Ocean Portal | Smithsonian, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, 14 May 2018, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/ocean-acidification.
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Welch, Craig. “Untangling the Many Ways Ocean Acidification Harms Marine Life.” Years Of Living Dangerously, Years of Living Dangerously, 2018, theyearsproject.com/learn/news/untangling-the-many-ways-ocean-acidification-harms-marine-life.
I wanted to choose something that I felt passionately about when I chose my topic, ocean acidification, an effect of climate change. I live in the small college town of Davis, California, an eco-friendly and gung-ho biking town. This means that I have not experienced the part of the world that this Contest opened me up to. On my family trip this summer to India, where my parents immigrated from, I will go with a more environmentalist mindset. I will be looking for ways to improve the conditions in my parents’ homeland. We feel that we need to live life to the fullest now, but we don’t always think about the future. We all have to look for the betterment of the Earth, not just ourselves. Since the Earth has given us so much, we should at least be eco-friendly, even if we don't actually give back to the Earth. I feel the urge to do something for this world. If every resident of the Earth steps up to do their part, we can make the Earth a better place for not just the rest of our lives, but for many generations to come.