The ocean plays a major role in the carbon cycle and absorbs about 30 per cent of all human-made CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year. Over the last few decades, the amount of CO2 released due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, has drastically increased. As a result, the chemistry of the ocean is changing, which can have lasting effects on the health of marine organisms and ecosystems, and subsequently for populations who depend on these for their livelihoods.
Nuclear and isotopic techniques can help assess the impacts of ocean acidification on the livelihoods of coastal African populations, participants heard at an IAEA event on the sidelines of the 27th Annual UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, today.
Coastal areas that already face issues such as overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction are at high risk of being affected by ocean acidification. In Africa, fisheries and aquaculture currently contribute around USD $24 billion to the economy, employing more than 12 million people and providing sustenance to millions of people around the continent. Additionally, demand for fish and ocean products has increased significantly and is expected to further increase 30 per cent by 2030. The combination of already delicate ocean health and ocean acidification puts communities that are heavily reliant on fisheries and ocean products – mostly rural coastal African populations – at significant risk.
“Isotopic techniques are very powerful methods to assess ocean acidification risk to marine organisms and ecosystems,” said Jana Friedrich, Head of the Radioecology Laboratory at the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories. “Accurate data allows us to better equip regional communities with the means necessary to address the impacts of ocean acidification, for example on local seafood species and their habitats.”
The IAEA-hosted side event, entitled Ocean Acidification Adaptation and Resilience in Africa, at its #Atoms4Climate pavilion, focused on the need for cooperation and support in Africa in the realm of ocean acidification (OA) – the increase in ocean acidity due to absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) – including through the use of nuclear techniques, to help understand and better protect valuable marine resources including fisheries and aquaculture.
Nayrah Shaltout, an associate professor at Egypt’s Marine Environment at the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries and co-chair of OA-Africa, highlighted the importance of understanding the impacts of ocean acidification on local communities. “Northern Africa is unique in that it has countries bordering the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and all of these different environments may face different challenges related to ocean acidification in the coming years,” she said.
Sheck Sherif, co-chair of OA-Africa and an Advisor to the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Liberia on marine and coastal issues, highlighted the importance of capacity building. “West Africa depends heavily on fisheries for local livelihoods and nutrition,” he said. “However, the region has gaps in knowledge and equipment to study ocean acidification. We need more assistance from the international community to the region in building capacities to better understand, mitigate and adapt to its impacts.”
IAEA support to Africa to address ocean acidification
The IAEA uses nuclear and isotopic techniques to assess the impacts of ocean acidification. Its Marine Environment Laboratories host the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Funded by the United States of America, the OA-ICC provides its international partners with access to data and resources to advance ocean acidification research worldwide. It also organizes training courses for early career scientists and promotes the development of data portals, standardized methodology and best practices.
Together with its partners, including Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) and the Global Ocean Acidification Observation Network (GOA-ON), the OA-ICC has so far provided ocean acidification capacity building to more than 80 participants from Africa. The IAEA has also lent support to the OA-Africa GOA-ON Regional Hub and coordinated various research projects focusing on mitigating the effects of ocean acidification on vulnerable communities.
The OA-ICC has completed a capacity assessment for Africa with an evaluation of the needs for ocean acidification research in more than 100 institutions across the continent and will continue to address capacity needs in the collection of ocean acidification data. “We are now designing and implementing a targeted capacity building programme to address the specific needs in the different regions of the continent,” said Sam Dupont, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at the University of Gothenburg.
Speakers at the event included ocean acidification experts from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the GOA-ON, Ocean Acidification Africa (OA-Africa), and IOC-UNESCO.
You can replay the event here.
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.