Finding Nemo in an Age of Ocean Acidification

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In the near future, the movie “Finding Nemo” could be the only way children will see a clownfish. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean acidification is making it increasingly difficult for clownfish to find their preferred habitat. And, as Fiona Harvey reported in an October, 2017, Guardian article, an eight-year long study has found that ocean acidification is “progressing rapidly around the world” with “deadly” consequences for marine wildlife.

“Since ocean acidification happens extremely fast compared to natural processes, only organisms with short generation times, such as micro-organisms, are able to keep up,” the authors of the study found.

Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean is an issue that began with the Industrial Revolution. For decades the ocean has operated like a “sinkhole,” absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, decades of ocean observations now show that there is a downside and a limit to the ocean’s carbon dioxide absorption. Carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean is changing the chemistry of the seawater, a process known as ocean acidification due to the decreasing pH levels that result. Ultimately, scientists warn, acidic oceans will no long be able to support stable, thriving marine ecosystems.

NOAA notes that about 1 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein.

Even subtle variations in carbon dioxide absorption in the ocean can tip the pH levels to levels of acidity that are consequential for marine wildlife. Decreased pH levels have huge effects on smaller organisms, slowing plankton cycles. Ocean acidification also reduces or blocks the calcification that is necessary for the repair and growth of coral reefs. These changes threaten the balance of the marine ecosystem as a whole.

According to Oceana, “The current rate of acidification is at least 100 times faster than any time period over the last few hundred thousands years and is it most likely unprecedented in Earth’s history. Carbon dioxide is being absorbed so rapidly that it is likely that many marine organisms will not be able to adapt to the quickly changing conditions.”

Experts around the world agree that there is no easy fix to our carbon dioxide issues. This is clearly a global issue that threatens our earth from the top of atmosphere, to the bottom of the ocean. Scientist around the world agree that the only way to address these threats is to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.


Fiona Harvey, “Ocean Acidification is Deadly Threat to Marine Live, Finds Eight-Year Study,” Guardian, October 23, 2017,

David Helvarg, “Trump Views the Ocean as a Gas Station and a Garbage Dump,” Sierra, March 9, 2018,

Student Researcher: Katie Remien (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)