Climate experts say ocean acidification is hurting the Belize Barrier Reef

BELMOPAN, Belize, October 27, 2014 (AMG) — The effects of climate change are weighing heavily on the fishing and tourism industries in Belize, according to experts at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

Citing increasingly-acidic oceans, the CCCCC has observed declines in marine populations, with a knock-on effect on exports and foreign exchange earnings. The reality is made worse by illegal overfishing and premature harvesting of conch and lobster during the country’s enforced closed seasons.

Ocean acidification occurs when greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere are trapped and stored in the ocean as carbonic acid. Calcium in the shells of crustaceans interacts with the carbonic acid forming calcium carbonate, which dissolves crustaceans’ shells – affecting their ability to survive. Coral bleaching, which occurs as a result of warm ocean temperatures, also affects the health of the reefs where much of the marine population lives.

CCCCC Executive Director, Dr. Kenrick Leslie, warned that GHGs are just as detrimental to oceans through acidification as they are to the atmosphere through global warming. Referring to activities such as mining, gathering of construction material and deforestation, Dr. Leslie further warned that terrestrial activities contribute to the marine problems Belize is facing. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers”, said Leslie on the interconnectedness of the land and marine effects.

EU cooperation: To assist in the research necessary to develop adaptation strategies for the marine environment, the European Union (EU) officially handed over a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy to the Government of Belize last month, as a part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean support project.

The buoy was developed by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and was installed by the CCCCC as an important method of gathering data such as ocean turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other atmospheric and oceanic conditions. This data will be observed from the CCCCC office in Belmopan, and passed along to international scientists for further analysis.

There are two stations in Belize where CREWS buoys are based; South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District and the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye.  In the wider Caribbean, CREWS stations are found in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Paola Amadei, the European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, reported that the EU may be able to further assist during the Paris climate negotiations in 2015, in pushing for a global initiative on climate change that will benefit small states such as Belize.

Image credit: Barrier Reef Belize, Suzanne Lynne Photography

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