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Ocean acidification

May 2019: Greenhouse gases reacting with seawater is leading to changes in the ocean’s surface chemistry. This can lead to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss with negative knock-on effects for coastal regions, food security and marine management practices.


Recent studies underline human impacts on oceans and its knock-on effects. About 25% of greenhouse gases are absorbed by the ocean, where it reacts with seawater and causes acidification. These rapid changes in surface ocean chemistry could have cascading effects that could negatively impact the social, economic, and environmental efforts of implementing sustainable development practices. Impacts associated with global warming have caused twice as many ocean-dwelling species to disappear from their habitats in comparison to land-dwelling species. Simultaneously, overexploitation of edible species, marine population collapse, and algal blooms pose significant threats to marine fish stocks around the globe. Only 3% of the ocean is now free from human impact. 

Implications & Opportunities

Altering the ocean’s surface chemistry and the general human impact on oceans is leading to negative consequences for coastal areas, fisheries and aquaculture. It can lead to habitat degradation and accelerated biodiversity loss, negatively impacting coastal communities depending on resilient oceans and commercial fishing activities. These risks amplify the need to improve fishery management practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Current agreements such as the Paris Agreement on climate change do not include ocean acidification and illustrate the need for equivalent binding international agreements for oceans.


There is only a limited number of studies available that produce practical guidelines for reversing the effects of ocean acidification and re-designing fishery management practices. This leads to increased reliance on governments and policy makers to take action, limiting the scope for business leader to take initiative.


Hall-Spencer, J. M., & Harvey, B. P. (2019). Ocean acidification impacts on coastal ecosystem services due to habitat degradation. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, ETLS20180117. doi:10.1042/etls20180117 

Smithsonian Magazine. (2019) Ocean-dwelling species are disappearing twice as quickly as land animals. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.