New tactics needed to save oceans from CO2 emissions

August 20, 2012, University of Queensland

( -- A University of Queensland scientist is involved in an international collaboration that has proposed a new strategy for marine conservation, which involves unconventional, proactive tactics, in a paper published in Nature Climate Change today.

Current actions identified in national and international policy to counter the impacts of are proving inadequate, according to the authors, Greg Rau (Institute of , University of California, Santa Cruz), Elizabeth McLeod (The Nature Conservancy) and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland).

“It's unwise to assume we will be able to stabilise atmospheric CO2 at levels necessary to reduce or prevent ongoing damage to marine ecosystems,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.

“A much broader approach to marine management and mitigation options, including manipulating the environment around corals and considering the translocation of reef-building corals, must be evaluated,” he said.

Marine conservation options may include:

  • Using shade to protect corals from the heat stress which leads to coral bleaching and death, albeit at small scales.
  • Actively assisting biological resilience and adaptation through spatial planning, protective culturing and possibly selective breeding
  • Maintain or manage ocean chemistry by adding globally abundant base minerals such as carbonates and silicates to the ocean to neutralize acidity, and improve conditions for shell formation in marine creatures
  • Convert CO2 from land-based waste into dissolved bicarbonates that could be added to the ocean to provide carbon sequestration and enhance alkalinity.
Investigating such approaches in terms of their cost, safety and effectiveness must be part of ocean conservation and management plans in the future, according to the paper's authors.

They believe more ideas need to be solicited and further research is required to determine which if any of these ideas could form the basis of safe and cost effective marine conservation strategies.

“Many of these ideas may only prove practical and effective at a local or regional scale,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.

“However, they may still be important to local businesses that may value patches of coral reefs.” he said.

“In lieu of dealing with the core problem – increasing emissions of greenhouse gases – these techniques and approaches could ultimately represent the last resort. I hope we don't end up in the position but we must at least be prepared.”

Rather than waiting for damage to occur, the authors suggest that research and evaluation of non-passive measures to preserve marine communities must be undertaken before more costly and less effective restoration from CO2-related impacts is needed.

According to the paper, if current trends continue, by 2050 atmospheric CO2 is expected to increase to more than 80 per cent above pre-industrial (pre-1750) levels, with the corresponding devastation to marine environments putting trillions of dollars at risk globally.

From tropical to polar oceans, the magnitude and speed of the changes expected as a result of and increasing ocean acidity is likely to exceed the ability of numerous marine species to adapt and survive. This rate of increase has few, if any, parallels in the past 300 million years of the Earth's history.

According to the authors, some species may be able to adapt to the expected changes by migrating deeper into the ocean or further away from the equator. However, such events are rare and difficult. For example, the Great Barrier Reef would have to migrate south at the rate of 15 kilometres a year to keep pace with the predicted increases in ocean temperature while at the same time preserving its tourist and fisheries values. This seems highly unlikely given the complexity of the reef ecosystem.

Explore further: Price to save coral reefs is "one year of GDP growth"

Related Stories

Price to save coral reefs is "one year of GDP growth"

July 8, 2012

( -- The cost of transforming the world’s energy systems to address rising carbon dioxide levels is little more than one-tenth of one per cent of growth in global gross domestic product per annum, according ...

Larry's cool change good for reef

March 22, 2006

Cyclone Larry has been a nightmare on land but underwater, it may have helped save the Great Barrier Reef from disaster. University of Queensland coral reef expert Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said Larry's wind had cooled ...

Acid oceans demand greater reef care

February 14, 2011

The more humanity acidifies and warms the world's oceans with carbon emissions, the harder we will have to work to save our coral reefs.

Global change puts plankton under threat

May 4, 2012

Changes in the ocean’s chemistry, as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, threaten marine plankton to a greater extent than previously thought, according to new research.

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Ultra-sharp images make old stars look absolutely marvelous

March 21, 2019

Using high-resolution adaptive optics imaging from the Gemini Observatory, astronomers have uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The remarkably sharp image looks back into the early history of ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.8 / 5 (5) Aug 20, 2012
There's a lot of silly ideas like trying to add alkalinity to the oceans or using machines to absorb CO2. There's already a machine that absorbs CO2 and they're free. It's called a "tree" and we just need to stop cutting them down.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2012
It's called a "tree" and we just need to stop cutting them down.
Ahh, but when a tree drops it's leave into a create, it releases tannic acid that eventually will flow down stream into the oceans, and the results is an even more acid ocean!
I'm kidding of course, more trees will certainly help pull the CO2 from the atmosphere in the short term. if they survive the heat, drought and fire storms that have resulted from Anthropogenic global warming (AGW). You see once you hit that tipping point, thing get difficult to repair.

5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2012
As the article says
This rate of increase has few, if any, parallels in the past 300 million years of the Earth's history.
And when was the last time we (earth) had an extinction event?

Your right of course VD. Growing a tree is just a bump in the carbon cycle. Let me direct the readers to wikipedia who has an excellent write up on the Carbon cycle.


Just goes to show, we shouldn't be digging up all of that sequestered carbon, combining it with Oxygen and lofting it high into the air.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.