In light of recent political events, let’s begin with a bad snail joke. What’s the difference between a politician and a snail? One is slimy, a pest and leaves a trail everywhere, and the other is a snail. This week’s goals led us to a series of slippery, slimy, and ultimately slow activities. So how do you investigate the effects of CO₂ on snail behaviour? Slowly. You wait for snails to crawl out of bottles in different conditions, wait for snails to crawl after you poke them with sea stars, and then wait for some more snails to crawl out of more bottles. Why were we doing this? Ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification is a dominating problem in our waters. As CO₂ in the air increases, so does the CO₂ entering the water. Once in the water, CO₂ reacts with water to produce an acid. So, more CO₂ in air means more CO₂ in water, which means more acidic water. Why is this important? Because the water is becoming acidic so quickly, life underneath must adapt just as quickly, or slowly die off. When some species die off and others survive, the species diversity changes and often decreases.
Although our little Black Turban snails seem fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, they are linked to one of the most important keystone species in our intertidal waters, Ochre Sea Stars. Being a keystone species, ochres regulate the populations of most other species in its community. Changing the relative population size of Ochres through ocean acidification can impact this balance and cause entire communities to collapse. Huge effects of ocean acidification are already well documented in coral reefs, where the coral-algae symbiosis is being negatively impacted, resulting in coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is the phenomenon where algae leave their coral hosts. If you have ever gone snorkeling in tropical waters, you would have seen how beautiful these underwater structures are. When algae leave their hosts, corals die and lose their vibrant colours. Entire reef systems die when organisms can no longer live in the corals that make up their habitats.
What can we do to help? Small reductions our everyday usage in carbon producing activities over time help to create a more sustainable future. Carpooling, reusing materials, choosing eco-friendly services- all of these small things can help to protect you and your fellow Earth inhabitants. There’s so much to discover under the water’s surface if only we have the chance to.