Warming sea temperatures and ocean acidification put the millions around the world who rely on the sea, at risk.
He sat shirtless on his thin bamboo floor in a home built on posts rising out of the Banda Sea. Tadi had just returned in his dugout canoe from scanning crevices in a nearby reef for octopus. He and his neighbours spend every day this way – scouring the ocean for something to eat or sell. Fishing, here, is about survival.
Their stilt village on Hoga Island, Indonesia, has no industry, no land, no running water. They dive without oxygen, wearing hand-carved wooden goggles, and carry spearguns hacked from logs with their machetes. They eat what they catch and sell the rest, using the money to buy everything else they need: boat fuel, root vegetables, rice and wood.
Without fishing, “how would I feed my family?” asked Tadi, who like many Indonesians has only one name.
Now Tadi’s community, like countless others across the globe, is on a collision course with the industrialised world’s fossil fuel emissions. Hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on marine life susceptible to warming temperatures and ocean acidification, the souring of seas from carbon dioxide emitted by burning coal, oil and natural gas. That includes US Pacific Northwest oyster growers and crabbers in the frigid Bering Sea, who now face great uncertainty from shifts in marine chemistry.
But from Africa to Alaska, many coastal communities face a substantially greater risk. These cultures are so thoroughly dependent on marine life threatened by carbon dioxide that a growing body of research suggests their children or grandchildren could struggle to find enough food. The science of deciphering precisely who might see seafood shortages remains embryonic, but with many of the most at-risk coastal communities already facing poverty, marine pollution, over-fishing and rising seas, the potential for calamity is high.
“I can’t tell you how many people will be affected,” said Sarah Cooley, at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who studies links between acidification and food security. “But it’s going to be a very big number.”
Said Andreas Andersson, an acidification and coral reef expert with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego: “These people are literally going to be fighting for their lives.” More