Ocean Acidification - Effects on Humans

Ocean Acidification - Effects on Humans

Ocean acidification will have drastic effects on shelled organisms and on coral reefs, but what about its effects on humans?  Many people mistakenly believe that the oceans may be turning to acid, and that it will no longer be safe for humans enter the water.  This is not true, even in the most extreme scenarios for the next century.  An ocean pH of 7.8 is in not directly harmful to humans, in fact many swimming pool maintenance guides suggest that people keep their pool pH between 7.2 and 7.8.

So, why would ocean acidification be detrimental to human health?  The previous two lessons were focused on the marine food chain and on the coral reef ecosystem.  Humans are inextricably linked to the health of the ocean.  We have always relied on the ocean's resources for food, recreation, transportation and medicines.  From an interpretive standpoint, the important thing is to help people realize how they are personally connected to the ocean, and then to be able to explain to them how that connection is being jeopardized by ocean acidification.  One of the most obvious connections people have with the ocean is seafood.  Most of the shellfish we eat are going to be negatively impacted by ocean acidification due to the fact that they will be unable to build sturdy shells.  Some oyster hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest have already been impacted, and have seen declines in larval settlement and survival rates.  Pteropods may seem insignificant to many people, but since they are a major food source for fish, their survival is very important to us.

Most people recognize the aesthetic qualities of coral reefs, but it is important that people realize the vital role reefs play in our daily lives.  There is a good chance that people are already connected to at least one of these roles, and NOAA's coral reef website  http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/ breaks it down in a user-friendly manner by dividing the value of coral reefs into five categories:

Biodiversity http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/biodiversity/

Coastal Protection http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/coastalprotection/

Fisheries http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/fisheries/

Medicine http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/medicine/

Tourism and Recreation http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/tourismrecreation/

  • The virtual seafood buffet website listed below is a fun and visual way to make direct connections between people and ocean acidification.  You can click on food items, the fish in the tank, or even on the person to find out how ocean acidification will affect it!
Lesson Take Away: 

Ocean acidification will affect humans too!  It will affect the food we eat since most of our shellfish requires calcium carbonate to form or to fortify their shells.  Many of the fish we eat are also dependent on shelled animals for their food source, so the entire food chain is in jeopardy!  The uncertain future of coral reefs due to ocean acidification is also a major concern.  The presence of healthy coral reefs is imperative to our survival because we rely on them for food, coastal protection, medicines and tourism dollars.

Last Updated: December 18, 2013