Five Ways Ocean Acidification Impacts the Poor

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SEATTLE, Washington — Ocean acidification is a process by which the pH of the ocean is reduced due to an increase in the “uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” This process has been happening in our oceans since the dawn of industrialization and is largely a result of massive fossil fuel emissions. There is a multitude of ways in which people are affected by ocean acidification, but the world’s poor are at a disproportionate risk due to their reliance on ocean-based ecosystems. This article highlights the five ways ocean acidification impacts the poor.

Coral Reefs

The first way ocean acidification impacts the poor is through their access to food. Many poor communities live in coastal areas, therefore relying on seafood to feed themselves and their families. In places like Indonesia, reefs and fish populations are dying at an unprecedented rate. Ocean fisheries in Indonesia produce more than 7 tonnes of fish each year, most of which is consumed domestically. If this access to food becomes limited, the poor here will starve as a result. However, there are many efforts to sustain the food supply that coastal populations rely on so heavily.

The Coral Reef Alliance is an organization that works with local communities to protect the coral reefs and rebuild the fish populations and food supplies by protecting fisheries. In Indonesia, the CRF has partnered with Lensa Masyarakat Nusantara (LMN) in order to encourage locals to use the new project PhotoVoices. With this project, fisheries can identify and emphasize certain environmental issues in their communities. Once they take and submit a photo of the issue, the organizations then work towards a solution. Additionally, in Honduras, the CRF was able to increase protection and regulation of the fish populations by convincing the government to add Cordelia Banks in Roatan and Tela Bay to the list of Sites of Wildlife Importance. 

Employment Opportunities

Poor, coastal communities rely heavily on the fishing industry for employment and income. Fisheries and aquaculture provide jobs for an estimated 540 million people around the world. This accounts for nearly 8 percent of the world’s population. An astounding number of people rely on this industry for jobs. If these fisheries continue to lose revenue from ocean acidification, many people will lose their livelihoods. The fact that this affects so many people and such a huge industry is actually slightly positive because there is such a huge investment in keeping the oceans and fish populations healthy. 

If people continue to advocate for those relying on this industry and create awareness around the impact it will ultimately have everyone, people will be more inclined to take action. The CRF recommends decreasing activities with high carbon emissions, such as driving cars and eating meat. The most effective way to advocate for these communities is to donate to organizations like the Coral Reef Alliance, the Ocean Foundation or the Coral Restoration Foundation. The Coral Restoration Foundation also offers educational activities, dive programs and volunteer opportunities to plant coral trees.

Ecotourism

A lot of poor communities rely on ecotourism and recreational activities as their main source of revenue. If coral reefs die due to ocean acidification, many of these regions will not remain popular vacation destinations. Coral reefs assist in maintaining vibrant marine life. This includes colorful fish, dolphins, sharks and healthy plant life. Snorkeling, boating, fishing and resort industries will all be harmfully affected by these changes. As a result, many of the locals will lose their jobs and the local economies will suffer greatly.

Due to the great interest in protecting these industries, there have been many efforts to measure the aesthetic value of healthy reefs and oceans. The results show that when the reefs are healthy, there is a greater opportunity for revenue to be made. For example, in Guam, the presence of sharks and turtles generated an estimated $15-20 million in a year in ecotourism. Once the stakeholders are aware of that, they are often more inclined to protect that source of income.

The Guam Coral Reef Initiative has introduced multiple projects locally in order to protect this industry. For example, Hotels FOR Guam marks the opening of seven new hotels in Tumon Bay that will reduce the harmful effects of tourism on the coral reefs. The project works to educate those within the tourism industry on how to maintain healthy coral reefs and still generate revenue. 

Health Concerns

A less commonly known effect of ocean acidification is the health of poor people in coastal regions. Because ocean acidification kills coral reefs and other helpful organisms, more harmful and toxic species will thrive in the acidified waters. Although many of the toxic species are smaller and seem non-consequential, they will be consumed by larger marine life which, in turn, may be food sources for humans. As the toxicity moves up the food chain, it becomes increasingly concentrated and more dangerous.

Poor populations will be disproportionately affected by these health-related concerns because they are so dependent on marine life for food supply. If water quality continues to decrease in coastal communities, locals will be exposed to at least three types of shellfish poisoning upon consumption. The effects that can have on an area that relies so heavily on fish for their main protein source will be considerable. However, the Coral Reef Alliance has helped implement policies like the dive fee in the communities of Amed-Jemeluk and Tulamben in order to raise money that goes towards protecting the local fish populations.

Climate Change

The final way that ocean acidification will impact the poor is through increased effects of climate change. The most vulnerable communities to the effects of climate change are the poor because they bear the heaviest burden of pollution. As the oceans acidify, they are less healthy and less capable of absorbing the massive amounts of carbon dioxide that they naturally do. When this happens, sea levels rise and natural disasters occur more often and become increasingly devastating. Additionally, with dead or dying coral reefs, the shoreline is more vulnerable to flooding without the protection that coral reefs would offer. Poor communities do not have the financial means or resources to protect themselves from these impacts and will, therefore, suffer disproportionately.

Although ocean acidification will eventually have an impact on everyone, regardless of geographic location or financial means, it is first going to affect poor populations. The five ways that ocean acidification impacts the poor will result in these people facing disproportionate devastation due to the destruction of ocean ecosystems. This will have consequent effects on their communities as well. There is still plenty of time to reduce the impact that poor communities. If we can collectively reduce our carbon footprint and support the organizations doing research on ocean acidification, we can make big differences on the long-term impacts of this issue.

Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr

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