Bermuda reefs could be 'canary in the coal mine' warning for acid seas

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Bermuda's coral reefs could act as an early warning system for other reef systems as they could be the first to see damage caused by increasing acidification of the oceans, Rotarians heard this week.

Hamilton Rotary heard from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) oceanographer, Dr. Andreas Andersson who said that because of the high latitude location of the Island and the cold temperatures during the winter, Bermuda's coral reefs are more susceptible to corrosion than the Caribbean's.

"As the oceans continue to absorb carbon dioxide from human activities and become increasingly acidic, the coral reef of Bermuda will experience critical conditions before its counterparts in the Caribbean.

  • <b>Glowing:</b> Satellite photograph showing Bermuda surrounded by its reef system. The corals may be amongst the first in the world to begin to show damage for acidification of the oceans.

    Glowing: Satellite photograph showing Bermuda surrounded by its reef system. The corals may be amongst the first in the world to begin to show damage for acidification of the oceans.

  • Photo by Chris Burville
Under threat: A section of reef near the wreck of the Minnie Breslauer on the south shore. Bermuda's corals may act as an early warning of damage being caused by acid seas.

    Photo by Chris Burville Under threat: A section of reef near the wreck of the Minnie Breslauer on the south shore. Bermuda's corals may act as an early warning of damage being caused by acid seas.


Bermuda's coral reefs could act as an early warning system for other reef systems as they could be the first to see damage caused by increasing acidification of the oceans, Rotarians heard this week.

Hamilton Rotary heard from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) oceanographer, Dr. Andreas Andersson who said that because of the high latitude location of the Island and the cold temperatures during the winter, Bermuda's coral reefs are more susceptible to corrosion than the Caribbean's.

"As the oceans continue to absorb carbon dioxide from human activities and become increasingly acidic, the coral reef of Bermuda will experience critical conditions before its counterparts in the Caribbean.

"Hence, the coral reefs of Bermuda may act as the 'canary in a coal mine' in terms of the effect of ocean acidification on corals and coral reef ecosystems," he said.

Investigators at BIOS are currently researching the effects of ocean acidification locally and globally and are trying to develop an ocean acidification research centre.

According to Dr. Andersson, carbon dioxide levels would not slow down, but rather continue to build which could kill off the reefs, affecting human and marine life.

Dr. Andersson said humans were using more fossil fuel to run the economy via energy sources such as cars and planes. He said the atmosphere took up 55 percent of the carbon dioxide from the fuel and the ocean took up 30 percent.

"Future predictions suggest that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide will continue to increase in all realistic socio-economic scenarios, and consequently ocean uptake of this gas and acidification of ocean surface waters will increase.

"As a result, we may expect marine organisms, both calcifying and non-calcifying, to be affected by these changing environmental conditions," he said.

Dr. Andersson added: "We envision the research centre, which we currently refer to as BEACON (Bermuda ocean acidification and coral reef investigation) having four different components."

He said they would be:

• field component continuously monitoring chemical conditions on the reef with concurrent observations of coral reef health

• an experimental component using tanks and aquaria to manipulate and control environmental conditions and investigate the effect of future seawater conditions on various marine organisms

• a numerical modelling component used to forecast future scenarios and consequences to the Bermuda coral reef

• an educational and outreach component involving local schools, students and general public.

He added: "The threat of ocean acidification is imminent but at this time we are only beginning to understand the potential consequences.

"In order to accurately direct future conservation and emission policies, the need for a better understanding of this problem is urgent. The only way we can stop or slow down ocean acidification is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere."

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