Sea Urchins and Abalone Won't Grow in Warmer Waters


Photo: avlxyz, Flickr, CC BY-SA
Ocean acidification has been covered extensively in these pages, but remains largely unknown to the public at large. But a revelation from a new study recently completed by Australian researchers gives us yet another reminder of how severe this problem is: if oceans continue warming and acidifying at the rate they currently are, creatures like sea urchins and abalone will no longer be able to grow their skeletons. Here's Cosmos Magazine:
The results of a new study show that abalone and sea urchins born into ocean conditions 100 years from now will be unable to calcify their shells or grow their spines - suggesting that key sources of protein will be lost due to climate change in the future.

"We wondered about the impact of climate change on shelled marine animals since ocean acidification reduces the amount of carbonate ions, which they need to make their calcium carbonate skeletons," said Maria Byrne from the School of Biological Sciences and School of Medical Sciences at Sydney University, Australia.

The world's oceans are currently warming, acidifying, and seeing an increase in CO2, thanks to global climate change. And it's not just urchins and abalone that will be impacted -- though they were selected due to their vast commercial and ecological importance -- we already know that coral is having major difficulties surviving in warming waters, as it too relies on carbonate ions to secrete its calcium carbonate skeleton. Predictions have already been widespread that some coral reefs may not survive the century.

In the experiment, the researchers brought urchins and abalone up, from embryo to adult, in waters in varying levels of acidity and warmth. Abalone didn't make it if temperatures rose even 2 degrees Celsius -- a possible increase we may see in reality in a matter of decades, according to climate model predictions. Urchins were a tad more resilient, and it took a rise of 4 degrees C (the projection for ocean temps in 2100 on a business-as-usual emissions path) to knock them off.

But both are distressing reminders of what we already knew -- unabated, ocean acidification will destroy some of the most vital species in our marine ecosystems.

More on Ocean Acidification
Ocean Acidification - What It Is and How It's Changing The World
Ocean Acidification Conference: Acidity Up 30% Since Industrial Revolution

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