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How air imperils the sea

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Coral reefs do much more than dazzle divers who explore their beauty, though their monetary value as tourist attractions is significant. Reefs have “a lot of hidden economic value,” Dr. Savitz says. They provide vital habitat for a number of commercially valuable species. They provide barriers that act as storm protection. And they’ve been shown to be the source of medically useful substances.

Acidification is expected to add to a number of other stresses on coral reefs, including: warming ocean temperatures (which cause coral bleaching); pollution; and overfishing.

Lower ocean pH is also allowing sound waves to travel farther underwater. That’s bad news for marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, which rely on emitting and hearing sounds to hunt and communicate, says a recent study from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in northern California.

By 2050, the report estimates, underwater sounds will travel about 70 percent farther than today.

To prevent dangerous acidification, countries must lower CO2 levels in the air from about 385 parts per million (ppm) today to 350 ppm, according to the Oceana report, entitled “Acid test: Can we save our oceans from CO2?” To do that, industrialized countries will have to cut carbon emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, in line with the recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its climate research, the Oceana report says.

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