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New Film Reminds Us to Protect Ocean Economic Vitality from Global Warming

09/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last summer, when I traveled through the Arctic Ocean as part of the Aspen Commission on Arctic Climate Change, I was moved by the beauty of the sea, from its steel gray waters to its haunting blue sea ice. As I listened to scientists describe what global warming is doing to the Arctic, I felt a strong a sense of moral responsibility to protect the ocean from greenhouse gas pollution.

But as I spoke to business leaders on the trip, I was struck by yet another reason to preserve the world's oceans from the damage of climate change: economic sustainability.

In the United States alone, ocean-related tourism, recreation and fishing are responsible for over 2 million jobs. In 2000, the U.S. ocean economy created two and a half times the economic output as the agricultural sector, and by 2004, it had contributed more than $230 billion to GDP.

Yet even though these numbers are impressive, they are on the decline. The long-term vitality of these industries rests entirely on the vitality of the oceans, and right now, they are threatened by something called ocean acidification--a force that in addition to pollution and overfishing could tear apart the wide net of marine-based commerce, from tourism to dining.

A new film being premiered today on Discovery Planet Green powerfully illustrates just what acidification is doing to our oceans. Called ACID TEST, the film was co-directed by NRDC's Daniel Hinerfeld and is narrated by my college roommate and dear friend Sigourney Weaver. It also draws on the expertise of NRDC's Dr. Lisa Suatoni to explain what has recently emerged as a very serious threat.

You see the main cause of global warming - carbon dioxide - is also changing the chemistry of the world's oceans. Excess carbon dioxide is making marine waters more acidic, which causes a drop in carbonate--the key component in shells. When carbonate levels fall, it is more difficult for organisms to make their shells, which become thinner and more brittle.

This will harm not only seafood favorites such as lobster (the U.S. lobster industry brings in about $375 million annually), but also smaller organisms that form the base of the ocean food chain.

Corals, home to abundant marine life, will be especially hard hit. One of the scientists featured in ACID TEST believes we could be facing the loss of most coral reefs in the next 50 years. Such a loss would deliver a major blow to fishing and diving industries.

ACID TEST makes it clear that we do not have to accept this fate. Solutions exist that can help us revise the oceans and sustain the industries and jobs they support. But we need to put some smart policies in place to do so.

Here is how you can help:

Click Here to Tell Your Lawmakers to Pass a Strong Climate Bill: This fall, the Senate will be considering a clean energy bill that will reduce the global warming pollution falling into our oceans.

Click Here to Tell Your Lawmakers to Pass a National Healthy Oceans Act: This bill would be like a Clean Air Act for our oceans--a comprehensive approach to sustaining our marine resources.

Click Here to Learn More By Watching ACID TEST: You can find local show times and more information.