The cost of coral damage

October 10, 2014

A report released by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity warns that ocean acidification will cost us $1 trillion by 2100, the result of degrading tropical coral reefs.

The oceans absorb approximately ¼ of our carbon dioxide emissions, something which has been directly reflected by their chemistry. Over the past 250 years, oceans have seen a 26 per cent increase in acidity. While the biological nature of the problem has been intensely studied, the economic impact of the problem has remained largely unknown.

Ocean pH is predicted to drop even further (reaching 7.9 by 2100), making the oceans 170 per cent more acidic than they were prior to the industrial revolution, affecting not only ecosystems but also economies. “It is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts… on marine organisms and ecosystems and the goods and services they provide,” the UN CBD scientists said.

Acidification has a particularly significant impact on coral reefs. Dropping pH reduces the concentration of carbonate ions in the upper layers of the ocean. As the levels of carbonate ions drop, the calcium carbonate skeletons of corals will begin to dissolve.

The new report indicates that the resultant loss of tropical coral reefs could cost $1 trillion by the end of the century, due to lost shoreline protection and lost revenues for tourism and food industries. It is hoped this prediction will encourage governments to fund more studies into ocean acidification, and policy makers to establish new efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions.