The human body actually has a lot in common with the oceans. For starters, our bodies are largely composed of a dilute solution of alkaline water, just like the oceans. In fact, you could picture the human body as a “skin-encapsulated container of alkaline seawater."
Both our bodies and the oceans are designed by nature to function best in a slightly alkaline state. Both, however, are becoming dangerously acidified through modern lifestyles. In the case of our oceans, the pH of surface ocean waters has increased by approximately 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Within the human body, unwanted metabolic acidosis is also increasing. While this acid load is not immediately life threatening, over the long haul even a slight tilt towards metabolic acidosis leads to myriad health problems, including bone loss and increased vulnerability to infection. See my book The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide that I published in 2013.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the acidification of the oceans.
Ocean acidification: Did you know?
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased 40% from the preindustrial era to the early 21st century. This increase is 10 times faster than has occurred on the earth for millions of years.
- The oceans absorb about 30% of these growing global carbon emissions. Once carbon dioxide dissolves in water, the carbon dioxide molecules react with water molecules to form carbonic acid.
- This increase in carbonic acid that forms in water decreases the availability of mineral carbonates needed by marine life to build shells and skeletons.
- Then, carbonic acid combines with carbonate to form bicarbonate. This chemical reaction essentially steals carbonate.
What does this mean for life in the ocean?
The rising acidity of the oceans has many adverse effects on its inhabitants. The loss of carbonates from ocean water, particularly calcium carbonate, has resulted in the depletion of coral reefs and the inability of some marine animal species to produce viable shells. Many coral species and marine animals (such as crabs, oysters, and starfish) depend on carbonate to form their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.
In addition to harming types of marine life that directly use carbonate to form their skeleton, the increase in carbon dioxide in the ocean leads to more frequent algal blooms and excessive seaweed growth. Just like land plants, these marine plants use carbon dioxide, and overabundant CO2 encourages excessive algal blooms, which, when out of control, can block sunlight from ocean organisms, limiting their access to necessary light photons. They also use up oxygen in the water, making it impossible for other organisms to survive. Algal blooms can also be toxic to other marine life. For example, in 2015, more than 200 sea lions at the Marine Mammal Center in California needed care after suffering from illnesses caused by the harmful neurotoxins produced by algal blooms in the area. A more pedestrian fact, but important to water-loving humans, is that many swimming areas are rendered unsafe due to these toxic algal blooms.
Oceans protect the earth from greenhouse-gas temperature increases
Not only do the oceans serve as a sink for carbon dioxide, but, from the 1970s to 2013 they have also absorbed 93% of the heat generated by the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in earth’s atmosphere, and more and more this heat is entering the oceans causing a rise in temperature. The increase in ocean temperature fosters unwanted algal blooms and creates an unsustainable environment for many ocean animals.
Essentially, the increasing carbon footprint on earth is greatly absorbed by our oceans. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “hmmm, I know global warming is happening, but I don’t feel it!” you can thank the oceans for absorbing much of the heat and the excess carbon dioxide generated by our fossil fuels.
What does this mean for coral reefs?
Marine coral reefs are of paramount importance to life as we know it. About 25 percent of all marine species are found in, on, and around coral reefs.
Coral and algae are dependent on one another for survival. The algae live in the tissues of the coral and the coral feeds on algae. When the coral becomes stressed due to increased water temperature, the algae leave the coral causing the coral to lose both its color and its major food source. As a result, the coral becomes white (bleached) and faces increased susceptibility to disease. This phenomenon, called coral bleaching, increases coral’s risk of mortality.
In fact, during a mass coral bleaching between 2014 and 2017, it was estimated that 75% of the earth’s coral reefs were affected, leading to about 30% mortality.
What does this mean for algal blooms?
What does this mean for marine life?
Additionally, it has been found that temperature increases directly impact migration patterns, habitat loss and relocation, and loss of breeding grounds for marine life. Some of the animals that have been affected thus far are fish, polar bears, walruses, seals, sea lions, penguins, and sea birds.
What each of us can do
All of life is connected and as we acidify our external environment, we acidify our bodies. In a follow-up article we will discuss what each of us can do to alkalize our personal internal body, as well as how we can help return our oceans, lands, and waters to life-supporting and sustainable pH balance.