Ecosystem Destruction Chain Effects

Acidification of the ocean is deadly to coral reefs and the creatures that rely on them. It destroys the natural balance and structure of the chemistry of the coral reef by depleting the calcium compounds, reducing the oxygen levels and raising carbon dioxide content. How does it do this? By dissolving the calcium carbonates that form the matrix which is the basis of the coral reef!

A simple school experiment can best be used to demonstrate the principles involved. Take a whole egg, the shell is also calcium carbonate, and place it in a solution of vinegar, a mild acid. As it sits, bubbles will form on the shell and within a few days, the shell is completely gone. The bubbles rising are carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide forms, oxygen is removed from the solution. This is what happens to coral reefs when ocean acidification occurs. In the ocean, the acid is more dilute and the coral stronger, but the process and end result is the same, destruction of the coral reefs!

When the coral reefs die, the creatures that rely on them and live nearby either die or move to another reef. Dying is permanent and many reef creatures are going extinct due to acidification. Even if the acidification doesn’t spread to the next reef, the ones that move often die anyway and can kill off the other creatures by moving! How? It is called overcrowding with a limited food supply.

By going to another reef (provided one unaffected is close enough to get to) they are invading another habitat and ecosystem. Each system has a limited amount of food and if that food is depleted too quickly, everything starves and dies. One barracuda may need 5 fish day to maintain its metabolism and the reef is producing 50 new fish, a balance of 10 barracuda develops. Suddenly 5 barracuda move over as their reef gets destroyed and start eating, in a few days everything is hungry and start to eat the producers. This wipes out the parent stock and numbers drop below sustainable levels, all 15 barracudas die! A chain effect now comes in to play as whatever those barracuda kept in control now start to overpopulate, eat all their supply and die. It continues until the reef is gone, even without the direct acidification.

Ironically enough, if the reef disappears, often the beaches are not far behind. Most sand is made from small bits of coral. Without constant replenishment, the sand disappears and the beaches erode. Without the reefs to break wave action, the erosion occurs even faster. Shore creatures, such as ghost crabs, then move to other beaches and overload those places just like the fish offshore.

That is the ultimate result and impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs, the death and destruction of those reefs and the creatures that rely on them! That can and does include land as well as sea creatures.