Science

Sands On Coral Reefs Dissolve Due To Ocean’s Acidity

Research recently published in Science shows that the Carbonate sands on coral reefs will start dissolving within 30 years as the oceans become more and more acidic.

The sands on coral reefs accumulate over thousands of years from the breakdown of both coral and other organisms that call the reef home. These sands on coral reefs form the backbone of both the reefs and environments around it – home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world.

sands on coral reefs
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

As climate change continues to be a major problem around the world, the reefs are being threatened more and more each year. The sands on coral reefs are an integral part of building and maintaining this rich environment, and the acidic conditions could continue to wear away at this integral part of this ecological marvel.

The issue with the acidity is due to the sensitivity of the sands on coral reefs to the chemical makeup on the sea water. One of the biggest issues with global warming is the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This substance is absorbed by the ocean and decreases the water’ pH, contributing to the erosion of these reefs.

In a recent article on The Conversation, the researchers detailed the process by which they came to the conclusion that the sands on coral reefs were being eroded.

“ It is well known that ocean acidification reduces the amount of carbonate material produced by corals. Our work shows that reefs face a double-whammy: the amount of carbonate material produced will decrease, and the newly produced and stored carbonate sands will also dissolve.

We measured the impact of acidity on carbonate sands by placing underwater chambers over coral reefs sands at Heron Island, Hawaii, Bermuda and Tetiaroa in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Some of the chambers were then acidified to represent future ocean conditions.

The rate at which the sands dissolve was strongly related to the acidity of the overlying seawater, and was ten times more sensitive than coral growth to ocean acidification. In other words, ocean acidification will impact the dissolution of coral reef sands more than the growth of corals.”

While it’s a difficult process to address the acidity’s effects on the sands on coral reefs, the research team does assert that not all hope is lost.

“It may be possible to reduce the impact of ocean acidification on the dissolution of reef sands, by managing the impact of organic matter like algae at local and regional scales. This may provide some hope for some already disturbed reefs, but much more research on this topic is required.

Ultimately, the only way we can stop the oceans acidifying and the dissolving of coral reefs is concerted action to lower CO₂ emissions.”

In order to reduce the effects of Carbon Dioxide emissions, governments will have to take immediate action to reduce practices that are destroying our environment. The likelihood of everyone working together to address climate change is not high at this point in time, but only through a concerted effort to address climate change can we reduce the effects of acidity ravaging sands on coral reefs as well as the myriad of other issues a heating planet brings about.