Our oceans feed the world, provide jobs, and generate most of the planet's oxygen. Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth and contain more than 97 percent of the world's water. Our survival literally depends on their health. And yet few people realize that the oceans are suffering from a grave affliction caused by increased carbon pollution.
More than one quarter of the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels enters our oceans, where it makes the water more acidic. Scientists have just recently discovered that this rising acidity is threatening ocean life as we know it.
This week, we are joining with Senator Frank Lautenberg on Capitol Hill to host a screening of the groundbreaking documentary, Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification. This will give our lawmakers -- those with the power to limit carbon dioxide pollution -- the opportunity to better understand what is happening to our seas due to our dependence on fossil fuels.
Acid Test, which premiered on Discovery Channel Planet Green, was produced by our colleagues at NRDC and narrated by Sigourney. We've been friends since high school and we even shared an apartment as young professionals in New York, heading down our very different career pathways. Now we have come together for one of our most important- and most urgent- collaborations. Acid Test (which you can watch online here) vividly illustrates what is happening to our oceans, and offers solutions to revitalize them.
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.
Ocean acidity has increased an average of 30 percent since the industrial revolution. If we continue to dump carbon dioxide into our seas, ocean acidification could result in a "global osteoporosis," harming not only commercially important shellfish, such as lobster, crabs, and mussels, but also key species in marine food webs such as corals and plankton. That could send shock-waves up the food chain, threatening fish, birds, and mammals.
Rising ocean acidity will also hit our economy hard. In the United States alone, ocean-related tourism, recreation and fishing are responsible for over 2 million jobs. Indeed, the U.S. ocean economy creates two and a half times the economic output as the agricultural sector, contributing more than $230 billion to the nation's GDP annually.
We don't have to watch these economic opportunities evaporate in the face of acidification. We can take steps to turn back the tide.
The first step is for Congress to pass clean energy and climate legislation. This week, Senators Kerry and Boxer will be introducing a comprehensive clean energy bill that we hope will jump-start the Senate to move forward with this vital legislation. Along with policies to drive investment in clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, we hope this bill will include additional adaptation provisions to help make our seas more resilient and better able to withstand the stresses of acidification.
The next step in defending our oceans is to deepen our understanding of this phenomenon. The main reason ocean acidification was 'under the radar' for so long is that we have never routinely monitored the impact of rising carbon dioxide pollution on our oceans. The Senate can change that by fully-funding the ocean acidification research bill introduced by Senator Lautenberg.
Already, we have seen a dramatic spike in attention around this issue. Now we need our lawmakers to take the necessary steps to restore our oceans. These measures can lead us to a future of more clean energy and less pollution -- a future that is safer and healthier for our people, our planet and our oceans.
Save our Oceans from Acidification: Tell your senators to help save our oceans by passing strong climate legislation.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.