In Japan, there is a famous family legend called the Heike Monogatari (平家物語). The legend states that in 1777, Shunkan along with and Taira no Yasunori and Fujiwara no Narichika were secretly plotting to take over Taira Clan with the leader of Taira no Kiyomori. The Taira Clan at that time took full power and were very powerful.Before any attacks, the plot was discovered and they were exiled to an island below Kyushu called the Kikai-ga-shima. The island they were sent to is now known as Kikai-jima and is the island where my grand-father was born. I am an ancestor of the Taira no Yasunori with the Japanese last name of Taira. The reason why I am here typing this is because the ocean carried my far relatives to an island.
Kikai Island, with an area of 56.94 km² is located in Ōshima District, Kagoshima Prefecture. The island was created by elevated coral reefs. A few years ago, I had a chance to visit Kikai island with my family. There I saw beautiful corals and enjoyed eating the fresh seafood.
Recently, my grand-father told me Kikai-jima was in danger of loosing it’s astonishing marine life due to environment issues. I had a chance to do a research project on environmental issues so I decided to do ocean acidification which is closely related to the marine life in Kikai Island and myself.
Japan’s intriguing marine life is threatened by rising amounts of carbonic acid in the ocean. Ocean acidification is an acutely global issue that has intensified over the past decade. Japan developed by incorporating the ocean, making the ocean a valuable resource. Ocean acidification will bring great impact to the country and people of Japan.
The issue of ocean acidification is relatively new, but is a dangerous and rapidly emerging global issue. The public talks about the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) being released in the air not knowing that 26% of the CO2 , roughly 2.5 billion tons of CO2 is being absorbed by the ocean every year (Monroe). Chemical reactions occur when CO2 is absorbed by the water, creating carbonic acid that lowers the levels of pH and calcium carbonate materials of the seawater.
Organisms, including humans, are very sensitive to pH change. For example, human blood is at a pH of around 7.35-7.45. If our blood pH dropped by 0.1 pH, humans would suffer seizures, heart arrhythmia and in worsts cases a coma by the process of acidosis (“A Primer on PH”). Like humans, marine life also suffers acidity differences. If the ocean continues to acidify at the current pace, it is estimated that by the middle of the 21st century, the pH will drop to a point which would threaten the existence of a variety of marine life animals.
Carbonate ions and calcium ions are the basic structures of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a fundamental building blocks for shells and skeletons of various marine organisms. At present, most parts of the ocean have sufficient carbonate ions and calcium ions that are used to create calcium carbonate. But as ocean acidification intensifies, the carbonic acid that is created by CO2 neutralizes the carbonate ions, making it harder to produce calcium carbonate (“What Is Ocean Acidification?”). Since many marine animals such as oysters and shellfish create calcium carbonate materials to survive, acidification directly threatens their existence.
Ocean acidification poses several dangers to our future planet and Japan. The issue of ocean acidification effects me because of how close I am to the ocean. Going back to Kikaijima where my grandfather was born, I remember the multicolored corals and beautiful marine life while snorkeling. My dream is to preserve the marine life and to be able to show the future generations the amazing gift of nature. The public tends to focus on ongoing global issues and try to find solutions when it is too late, so studying about an rising issue early can help raise awareness and also find solutions to prevent the issue from becoming a disaster in the future.
The ocean is able to absorb a certain amount of carbon dioxide without endangering acidity levels. However, in recent years the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen to to a level that exceeds the ocean’s ability to absorb more CO2 without disturbing the natural acidity levels in the water. There are two sides of the equation for CO2 levels. One is the use of fossil fuels that increase CO2 emissions, and the other is deforestation, which reduces the amount of CO2 that trees absorb as they grow.
Fossil fuels are mainly coal, fuel oil or natural gas, formed from the remains of dead plants and animals (Van Dein). When a living organism dies, the carbon that was taken and created the animal remains with them in the ground. But when fossil fuels are used to create energy, the carbon that was contained and created the the living organism is directly emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. As a result of global economic development and population growth the use of fossil fuels has exploded over the past few centuries.
Fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are global, but Japan’s experience provides a good example of the problem. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Japan is now the fifth largest contributor to global fossil fuel emissions after China, United States, Russia and India. The United Nations trade data shows that Japan is the world’s largest importer of coal (184 million metric tons) and liquified petroleum gas (13.2 million metric tons) and the second largest importer of crude oil (191 million metric tons) and natural gas (3.72 billion terajoules) (Boden). Every citizen in Japan roughly emits 2.59 metric tons of CO2 a year. If we had a giant balloon with a diameter from the end of a football field to the 10 yard line and we filled it up fully with carbon dioxide molecules, we would have 1 metric tons worth of CO2. Every Japanese citizen emits 2.5 of those balloons every year showing that Japan adds large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere which eventually gets absorbed by the ocean.
While roughly one third of the CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, the ocean does not have a natural process that uses the carbon dioxide as a reactant to create a product that can be used somewhere else (“What Is Ocean Acidification?”). The ocean role in the carbon cycle is to take excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere so the atmosphere can reach equilibrium. But humans have released amounts of carbon dioxide that is so unnatural, the balance has tipped to one side resulting in major problems including ocean acidification.
The other side of the CO2 equation is deforestation. Trees are known to be the carbon sinks of the environment because they absorb carbon dioxide through a process called photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis, plants and other organisms convert light energy, carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy and oxygen that we breathe. This is a natural way to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the air.
Japan again offers an example of how deforestation has reduced the number of trees that can absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Between 1990 and 2000, Japan lost an average of 7,400 hectares (roughly 5,692 Tokyo Domes) of forest per year (Japan). About one hectare of forest can absorb roughly five tons of carbon dioxide a year. This would make 37,000 tons of carbon dioxide Japan could have adsorbed annually if the trees were kept. Trees have a double impact because they release carbon dioxide in the air when they are cut down or burnt, and they do not absorb carbon dioxide when they are dead. Just like the fossil fuels, carbon is the basic material of life which means that when the trees are broken down, they release the carbon dioxide they have absorbed over the years.
Ocean acidification has and is expected to effect marine life at various levels. Some species like photosynthetic algae and seagrasses may benefit from higher CO2 conditions in the ocean, as they require CO2 to photosynthesize like plants living on. But only a small group of plants actually benefit from the rising amounts of CO2 in the water and many more life forms are expected to be greatly harmed by ocean acidification. For example, the PMEL Carbon group studies have shown that a more acidic water environment brings a dramatic effect on most of the calcifying species such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton. These species calcify by bonding natural occurring calcium ions and carbonate ions creating what is called a calcium carbonate material. They use this as a basic material to create their skeletons and shells. As amounts of CO2 suddenly rises, the acid created on the surface of the ocean drops the pH and the amounts of carbonate materials resulting in an unbalance of calcium ions and carbonate ions. The calcifying species who fully depend on the act of calcifying have a harder time trying to create their shells and skeletons.
Recently, specific effects on Japanese marine animals have also been noticed. The Center of Global Environmental Research in Japan conducted numerous experiments on the effects of ocean acidification. Scientists simulated the future ocean by artificially raising the amounts of carbon dioxide in the water and rearing different species of Japanese marine animals in those artificial environments. From those experiments, they found specific species that would be greatly impacted by the rising acidity of the ocean. One of the species is purple sea urchin (Heliocidaris crassispina). They placed two eggs from the same mother and same time in two different seawaters. One was grown in a water with 300 ppm CO2 which is the levels of carbon dioxide before the industrial age. The other was placed in 600 ppm which is the estimated levels of carbon dioxide in 2100. The graph shows that the sea urchin grown in the 600pm sea water has shorter limbs compared to the one grown in 300 ppm. This shows that ocean acidification brings bad effects on the growth of some marine animals. Another species is called the Ezo abalone (Nordotis discus hannai). This abalone was placed in gradually rising levels of carbon dioxide. As the amounts of carbon dioxide rose, the shells gradually started to fall apart. The same effect on the shells was also found in Pteropods when they were put in levels of carbon dioxide projected for the year 2100. Instead of breaking apart, the shell gradually dissolved and was fully dissolved by the 45 day it was placed in the ocean. Pteropods are a major food source for North Pacific juvenile salmon and other animals. If these shellfish cannot adapt to the acidifying ocean, the could set off a chain reaction that has implications for the whole food chain of the ocean.
While these experiments highlight a potential disastrous impact of ocean acidification, the problem is not extreme enough now to be considered catastrophic. Unlike air pollution or water pollution when people get sick and are aware of the problem, ocean acidification is not as visible. However we already seeing signs of how this will effect the entire balance of marine life. For example, in recent years, there have been near total failures of developing oysters in both aquaculture facilities and natural ecosystems on the West Coast of America. It is too early to conclude that ocean acidification is fully responsible for the failure, but it is suspected as one potential factor. One of the biggest dangers ahead is that that problem is ignored because science cannot prove beyond a doubt that acidification having a negative impact on marine life. However, there are too many warnings signs to ignore the detrimental impact of ocean acidification.
Two keywords in the search for sustainable solutions to the acidification problem are recognition and reduction. Like global warming, there are still some people that refuse to believe this is a problem. Each individual does a little bit for the atmosphere, we can prevent and greatly lower the risks of marine life dying because of the acidifying ocean.
First, we have to raise the awareness of ocean acidification and educate the future generation. Ocean acidification is undoubtedly, one of the most important global issues we are facing right now. But just like myself before the project started, not many of us know and understand what ocean acidification is and how greatly it will effect our selves and the world. We have to raise our voices so the government, environmental organizations and the media hear us and notice how they have been missing a huge piece of a puzzle over the past decades. Raising awareness does not mean that we all have to join an organization to express our voices. Each person can maybe first tell their families or close friends about the topic next time at the ocean or when eating oysters.
The second thing we can do is to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
First thing we can do is to calculate your own carbon footprint which can help you understand and recognize how much carbon each individual releases into the atmosphere every year. We can also use current technology to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide we release. In the future, scientists may find a solution to ocean acidification and reduce the acidity of the ocean with advanced technology. Unfortunately, that technology has not been invented yet, but we can still use the current advancements in technology to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide we emit. For example converting to green renewable energy sources is current technology we can use to reduce the carbon emissions. Renewable energy sources are energy sources that are continually replenished. These include energy from water, wind, the sun, geothermal sources. A simple way an individual can convert to green energy is installing solar panels. Installing solar panels can not only help the environment but can also cut down electricity bills. Solar is one of the very few household purchases that will actually pay for itself. Studies show that on average, solar panels return two to four times their cost in saved electricity bills and typically pay for themselves completely within 7 to 15 years. If you live in a state with good incentives, the payback period can be as short as 2 to 4 years. While the energy demand rises, we can use modern technology to use the same electricity but more efficiently. For example, my family has switched fully to LED lights in 2014. LEDs are about 15 percent more efficient than fluorescent lights, and six times as efficient as incandescent — and rapidly improving. They still do cost three times the average fluorescent lights, but also do pay off in the long term like solar panels do.
When hearing about a global issue, it is hard to imagine how each individual can contribute. But every person can do small things for the environment without greatly changing their current lifestyle. The little thoughtfulness toward the environment can potentially stop ocean acidification from destroying the ocean.