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IAEA Workshop Warns Ocean Acidification Threatens Seafood Supply

Coral reefs are expected to deteriorate from acidity with significant implications for marine life. The blue-lined sea bream, or Symphorichthys Spilurus, pictured here inhabits lagoons and outer reefs in the Western Pacific. The photo was taken at the aquariums of the Musée océanographique de Monaco. (Photo: D. Calma / IAEA)

Better protection of shoreline natural systems, such as mangrove swamps and sea grass meadows, will help reduce the impact of increasing ocean acidification on fisheries and aquaculture, an IAEA co-hosted Workshop has recommended to policy makers.

The recommendation is among the conclusions of Bridging the Gap Between Ocean Acidification Impacts and Economic Valuation, held from 11 to 13 November in Monaco by the IAEA and the Scientific Centre of Monaco.

Currently, oceans absorb 25 percent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted each year. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing due to human activities. Acidification occurs when the rising quantities of CO2 absorbed by the oceans, dissolve to form carbonic acid. In turn, ocean waters become more acidic. That increasingly acidic environment can threaten marine ecosystems.

Marine plants take up atmospheric emissions of carbon and store it - a process known as blue carbon - enhancing water conditions for other sea life.

Marine fisheries face many forms of stress. Ocean acidification is likely to affect them both directly and indirectly. The Workshop found that currently not enough research has been done to determine the effects of the anticipated levels of ocean acidity on finfish. However, many edible shellfish may suffer under future ocean conditions. Ocean acidity's indirect effects on the food consumed by all types of marine life and their habitats, and thus on the potential marine food harvest, may be of greater concern to local fisher communities.

Currently, seafood provides three billion people with 20 percent of their animal protein intake. Ocean acidity must be taken into account in fisheries management, in particular in regions where seafood is a main dietary source, the Workshop said. Changes to the world's marine fisheries will have global impacts on communities that support fishing, seafood-related employment, commerce and trade. Coral reefs are also expected to deteriorate from acidity with significant implications for marine life.

The 55 scientists and economists representing 19 States who attended the Workshop pointed out the need for further research, greater public awareness, and the issue's inclusion in international deliberations, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Workshop was called to provide recommendations for policy makers, who need to prepare for the social and economic impacts of ocean acidification.

Regional differences in the vulnerability of fisheries to acidification and other factors worsening the effects of acidification, such as global warming, the destruction of habitat, overfishing, and pollution must be addressed, the Workshop said.

Other sponsors of the Workshop included the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco; the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation; the Monaco Ministry of State; the Monegasque Society of Water; the Monaco Tourism Office; the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; the State Department of the United States of America; and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy.

The conclusions and recommendations from the Workshop were presented to an invited audience, including Prince Albert II of Monaco on Tuesday, 13 November 2012. A set of recommendations for policy-makers will also be issued.

The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco also hosts the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre, which began its work in the summer of 2012.

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