Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Marine Destruction Reaches Beyond Ocean Shores

As I’ve related in past columns, I came south to Georgetown to escape the cold of the Northeast. The recent storm – complete with record snowfalls, bone-chilling temperatures and my mother laughing at my complaints on the phone – fell short of my expectations.

ore than anything else, the wild weather of D.C. has made me nostalgic for beautiful Long Island summers on the beach: the smooth, oatmeal-colored sand sifting through my feet; the dazzling, tender sun embracing my back in a warm glow; the everlasting gossip of friends; the uninterrupted beats of pop music; and, most importantly, the powerful and palliative ebb and flow of the ocean.

It is the ocean – with its mighty crashing surf and gripping tides, breaking waves that echo with the memories of laughter and sunshine, jellyfish stings and summertime barbecues – that I miss most during these bitter winter months. For many years, the waters of the Atlantic have been something of a home away from home for me in a strange way – a shelter in the swell reminiscent of a primordial self.

That’s what makes hearing of its endangerment utterly confusing and altogether frightening.

Ocean acidification – the phenomenon by which our ocean’s pH levels have incessantly dropped as they absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – is a universal threat to humanity and nature alike. Despite warnings by environmental organizations, the process has received a shockingly insubstantial amount of press and public attention. But – as research out in the field continues to haul in data – the problem is becoming more apparent and more unnerving.

According to a collaborative report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are at their highest levels in the past 800,000 (and possibly 20 million) years, and they are expected to continue to increase. The rampant rise affects not only the air we breathe and the temperatures we feel, but also the water that covers the globe.

A later report released by NOAA puts that latter number at 50 percent. What this indicates is a fundamental transformation in the chemistry and biology of Earth’s oceans.

As some may remember fondly from elementary school, the carbon cycle keeps levels of our 15th-most abundant element in balance between the oceans, the atmosphere, the terrestrial biosphere (life on land), and the lithosphere (the rigid crust and viscous mantle of the Earth). In order to maintain that homeostasis, the ocean dissolves carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into its waters. A good amount of water molecules bond with calcium to form calcium carbonates – an essential ingredient for reef-building corals and shell-forming marine algae and zooplankton.

Since the Industrial Revolution, however, mankind has dumped more and more carbon dioxide into the air, and the oceans – in an attempt to compensate for the disparity – have absorbed more and more of it. The devastating result is a 30 percent increase in hydrogen ions, which causes pH levels to plunge and makes the ocean more acidic. Surging acidity means lower levels of calcium carbonates, which wipes out coral reefs and endangers calcifying organisms from the vital zooplankton at the base of the food chain to the beloved starfish and other echinoderms as well as lobsters and other crustaceans.

That point about the food chain is especially unsettling when we realize that we sit at the top. The secondary report by the NOAA states that the United States spends about $60 billion a year on fish and shellfish consumption. If swift action is not taken to address this issue, we will suffer a disastrous food crisis and a potent dent in our economy. In addition, think of the deleterious destruction we enact on the environment. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, we may even be “changing the ocean’s chemistry so rapidly that we are outstripping the evolutionary pace of many organisms to adapt.”

What action is being taken? Close to nothing.

In late 2007, a bill that would establish a committee to further investigate the issue of ocean acidification was introduced. It passed the House in July 2008. For reasons unknown and inexcusable, the Senate failed to even vote on the legislation. The bill was a joke that paled in comparison to the problems we face. Yet Congress could not even take that small, first step.

What we need is comprehensive legislation to combat ocean acidification and its causes. Whether it’s by cap-and-trade or higher emission standards, we need to halt the buildup of greenhouse gases that lie at the heart of this plight. Likewise, we need to educate not only the fishing industry of the danger their commodity faces, but also the general public of the harm we are creating in our oceans. Hopefully, through such awareness, people will be swelled to action to save our beloved seas.

Conor Finnegan is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at On the Road appears every other Friday.

*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words*”

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