Friday, October 10, 2008

The Bay of Naples In Peril?

It has been used as a backdrop in many a romantic movie. It draws tourists by the tens of thousands. Renowned worldwide for its beauty and glittering clear waters, the Bay of Naples located approximately 2/3 of the way down the boot of Italy has a dirty little secret.

Photo: courtesy Lonely Planet

Unfortunately, Naples's dirty little secret could be just a precursor of things to come.

Scientists have discovered streams of gas bubbling up from the seabed around the island of Ischia. “The waters are like a Jacuzzi – there is so much carbon dioxide fizzing up from the seabed,” said Dr. Jason Hall-Spencer of Plymouth University. He went on to add, “Millions of liters of gas bubble up every day.”

The gas streams have turned Ischia’s waters into an acid bath that has had a major impact on the immediate and surrounding sea life and aquatic plants. Marine biologists fear that it may not be long before the rest of the world's bodies of water become more acidic as well.

Dr. Hall-Spencer went on to explain, "Everyday the oceans absorb more than 25 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If it were not for the oceans, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be far higher than they are today and the impact of climate change would be far worse. However; there is a downside, it is called ocean acidification.”

Once again, mankind has managed to do the most damage in the most recent years. It has been calculated that the oceans are absorbing so much additional carbon dioxide as a result of our pollution that they are 30% more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution, just two centuries ago.

The “Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World” was just held on October 6, 2008 in Monaco. Hundreds of scientists gathered to discuss what might happen in the next few decades with regards to our oceans.

Scientists have found that in Ischia's highly acidic water:

• Biodiversity of plants and fish has dropped by 30 per cent (less stocks to chose from, weakening of food chain, overpopulation of some species, imbalances of predator to prey)
• Algae vital for binding coral reefs have been wiped out (loss of shelter for small fish, loss of biodiversity, impact on larger species, loss of food source for some, loss of environmental protection provided by coral reefs)
• Invasive 'alien' species, such as sea-grasses, are thriving (choking out of natural species, loss of diversity, possible changes in gaseous makeup of ocean)
• Coral and sea urchins have been destroyed, while mussels and clams are failing to grow shells (the very building blocks of our oceans are unable to reproduce properly)

The conference also dealt with the issue of fish larvae sensitivity to high levels of acid as this will affect the commercial fisheries in coming years. “Many developing countries have seafood as their prime source of food,” pointed out Dr. Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “If they lose that, the result could be famine.”

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