Taking necessary steps to help the ocean

Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo signed the “We Are Still In” pledge on June 5, signifying that Rider remains committed to ambitious action on climate change. The pledge was a response to the announcement that the United States had withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. Over 1,200 governors, mayors, universities and businesses have also signed the “We Are Still In” pledge and plan to keep with the agreement even though the United States has pulled out.

On April 22, 2016, 195 countries around the world signed the Paris Climate Agreement. This was the first time so many countries around the world agreed on environmental action. The aim of the agreement is to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are accelerating the effects of climate change. While it affects all the countries that signed it, this mostly impacts the top emitters in the world including China, the United States and India. Estimates from scientists say that by 2050, the earth will increase between two and five degrees Celsius. The main long-term goal is keeping the increase in global average temperature well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

One reason curbing global temperature is so important is because of its impact on our oceans. Issues like ocean acidification and coral bleaching are destroying entire underwater ecosystems, and this is already impacting humans that enjoy eating seafood or make their livelihood by fishing.

Oceanography and marine ecology professor Gabrielle Smalley explained that ocean acidification happens because “the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing, and the oceans take up some of that CO2.  When CO2 enters the ocean, it is converted to carbonic acid and the pH of the ocean water decreases. It becomes more acidic.” When the ocean becomes more acidic, it breaks down the calcium carbonate exteriors of the coral, essentially killing it little by little.

Marine biology professor Paul Jivoff said “Corals are colonial animals with a calcium carbonate skeleton. “Reef-building” corals species are a major part of the structure of coral reefs.  These corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae, known as zooxanthellae, that live inside the coral animal tissues,” said Jivoff. “Zooxanthellae are photosynthetic and give different coral species their color. Coral bleaching occurs when the [they] are stressed and expel the zooxanthellae making [them] look bright white or bleached.”

When these algae are expelled, the coral has no stable way of obtaining food, effectively killing it.

As part of the Green Film Series, the Eco Reps showed a documentary called “Chasing Coral.” The cinematic documentary’s premise is “Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. Divers, photographers and scientists set out around the world to discover why the reefs are disappearing and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.”

While this is an issue that may not obviously affect us now, there will be lasting impacts on the oceans. In addition to not being able to marvel at these creatures in the wild, destroying a source of money and food for nearly 500 million people around the world is nothing to laugh at. However, there are steps we can take to help reduce our impact on our oceans and our environment.  We can, and need to, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit to the atmosphere by reducing the amount of fossil fuels we consume, conserving energy and investing in renewable energy sources.  The most important action we can take as individuals is to spread the message to others around the world.

Rahul Mehta, Lawrenceville Eco Rep

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