04/12/2012 01:44 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

A Lifeline for Sea Life

To me, the ocean is our greatest wilderness. I love swimming in it, surfing its swells, watching it from shore and thinking about all the life churning unseen beneath the surface.

When I take my little kids to check out tide pools, we're overjoyed when we find a sea star or a kelp crab. Lately, though, I've noticed a shift in my favorite pools: there are more sea grasses and fewer animals with shells.

I can't help feeling like these small changes portend something more troubling about our oceans. It matches what scientists are telling us: our oceans are beset by carbon pollution that threatens corals, colorful fish, salmon, sea otters, even whales. Left unchecked, our oceans face a dramatic change unprecedented in human history.

Sadly, the ocean's dark transformation has already started. Every hour, a million tons of carbon dioxide spewed from cars, factories and power plants rain down on the world's oceans.

That initiates a chemical reaction that turns sea water more acidic and robs it of compounds essential for corals, shellfish, oysters and tiny animals that are the building blocks of the ocean's food network. As conditions deteriorate, marine animals will have trouble growing, making shells, and surviving.

Without action, ocean acidification will send a disastrous shiver up the food chain, affecting not only sea life but the people who depend on it for food and recreation. Already, our oceans have become 30 percent more acidic since preindustrial times, and it gets worse every day. We can stop this nightmare, but only if we act now.

That's why the Center for Biological Diversity has started a petition urging President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a bold plan to address ocean acidification. And we're asking them to make it a national priority. Decisive action can save sea life as we know it.

Some of us are already feeling the impacts of this growing crisis. Shellfish farmers in the Pacific Northwest have reported a collapse of natural and farmed oysters. Just this week, a new study confirmed the link between massive oyster die-offs and ocean acidification.

Concerns are also mounting in Maine where shellfish harvesters are encountering dead mudflats on once-fertile grounds. As polar waters become more acidic, Alaskan fishermen are troubled by the prospect of smaller salmon.

Evidence of ocean acidification also looms in coral reefs just off-shore from popular beaches in places such as Florida and Hawaii. One-third of the world's corals have already been destroyed by bleaching, overfishing, and pollution, and coral growth has been sluggish in some areas since the 1990s. Now, as a result of increasing acidity, a majority of coral reefs sit in waters unsuitable for growth. Those conditions have put the 25 percent of ocean species living in and around corals at risk of losing their homing and prey avoidance abilities.

Even if, like me, you're from Utah, where the closest thing to an ocean is a big salty lake, this matters to you. Oceans cover three-quarters of the planet, and affect our weather, generate oxygen, produce food and bolster our economy. A conservative estimate suggests emission-related damage to our oceans ­-- including impacts on corals, fisheries and tourism -- will reach $428 billion annually in just a few decades. The longer we wait the worse things will become.

But it isn't too late to save our oceans and sea life. With swift action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions we can start taking important steps today to reverse this disastrous trend. Join me in our petition calling for a bold national plan to protect our endangered oceans.

For more information on ocean acidification, wildlife and regional impacts visit or follow breaking news @EndangeredOcean on Twitter.