The environment in which we live in has, as a matter of fact, slowly depleted. The population of the human race has only increased over the centuries, and is the main cause of this occurrence. Margaret Thatcher, delivered a speech on November 9, 1989 in which she persuaded the United Nations to protect the earth at all costs from human activities, or else vital ecosystems and the overall health of the planet would have an inescapable outcome. An important point she argued was that the emission of carbon dioxide being exposed into the atmosphere was having negative effects on the environment. Today, the usage of electricity, fuels, and transportation increases this exposure into the air. In fact, air pollution is sometimes indirectly situated when consumers buy products that require transportation and energy. As a result, most of this air pollution is caused by the burning of these fossil fuels required for oil, gas, coal and other materials in order to produce electricity and power for cars. Surprisingly, just one average family causes 65 tons of carbon dioxide to be transferred into the air. Consequently, cold regions are experiencing warm weather, melting ice caps and causing disruptions in the surrounding seas. But as the article, The urban transformation of the developing world stated, the world’s populations’ growth should be 1.74 from 2000 to 2024 with 86% of these numbers to occur in cities and towns. From 1950-1974, these numbers were still fairly low. Urbanization has to be accounted for into the degradation of the environment because it is precisely these urban cities that create a greater demand for natural resources. With that being said, this poses the question: What impacts does urbanization have on a secluded species in the deep waters of Alaska, specifically, Gorgonian corals, and is this species even affected at all by the forces of humanity?
The Cycle of Urbanization: Global Perspective
To begin, there needs to be a concrete understanding as to why urbanization occurs in order to clarify how carbon dioxide ends up floating in the air. As mentioned before, with more towns and cities, there are bigger demands for supplies including: energy, oil, coal, and gas that require assistance from earth’s essentials. Immigration is a huge factor contributing to urbanization that increases the overall fertility of many cities all around the world. Accordingly, urbanized cities provide a vast majority of opportunities including education, healthcare, and entertainment services that influence people to migrate. Although the lower class might have a lower chance to obtain education, their options are still vastly more available than those in the rural community. Moreover, urban populations have many more cars than rural populations per capita. In 2050, there would be 5.3 billion cars in the world, all requiring vast amounts of energy. Undoubtedly, the necessity for all of these raw materials to carry on with people’s daily lives, converts into environmental defects, specifically in the ocean. To that end, these changes go as far as to reaching the deep waters of Alaska.
Ocean Acidification: Biological Perspective
As fossil fuels burn and other human activities continue, there is a major pH change in the ocean which is termed Ocean Acidification. As carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, there are stronger responses in accordance with other substances that produce hydrogen ions due to an initial reaction with water, that then forms carbonic acid, and has the effect of making the ocean more acidic. The oceans have consumed about 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide since the Industrial age. Hence, ocean acidification takes away important key features that aid the marine animals living in the deep waters of Alaska. The consequences on marine life are the extinction of certain species due to the results in slower growth rates and weaker defense in their adaptive shelters. Moreover, as acidity gets high enough, ocean water becomes corrosive and harms the sea animals in dissolving their own bodies. The rise of acidity in the ocean decreases carbonate, which is a substance used by tens of thousands of marine species to form shells and skeletons. A particular species that is in danger of this process are the gorgonian corals of Alaska. Corals in Alaska are very special due to how unfairly unnoticed they are, and due to their deep inhabitants away from the sunlight. Surprisingly, there are more species of some corals deep in the waters then there are in the surface. Gorgonian corals live in a cold, dark environment with low inputs of nutrients and lower vision between their predators. These organisms grow very slowly, and have fairly low metabolic rates compared to organisms living on the surface. In addition, the environmental stability of the deep sea over long time periods are hypothesized to have reduced the tolerance of deep-sea gorgonians to environmental extremes or in other words the changes through the loss of more tolerant genotypes from their ancestors, thereby decreasing the potential for adaptation to future ocean acidification. Likewise, gorgonian corals have an even higher vulnerability because they are endemic, which means that these species are native to a restricted place. Furthermore, this particular species has a skeleton that consists of protein and calcium carbonate that allow it to grow and spread. But with increasing ocean acidification reaching these shallow waters, conditions become worse and fatal for this species. Consequently, this results in negative impacts on gorgonian growth, metabolism and survival, and sooner or later, these corals may become extinct. Though some may think that the surface waters are the most affected by the emission of carbon dioxide resulting from increasing urbanization, deep waters are equally affected with the bigger disadvantages they contain and their complex environment.
People may argue that ocean acidification affects surface waters the most. It is true that surface waters are more exposed to anthropogenic carbon dioxide than deep waters. However, a study made in Japan found that there has been decreased oxygen concentrations in very deep waters. As organic matter decomposition in these waters leads to more CO2 accumulating, the pH decreases. Surprisingly, this study revealed that the deep waters of Japan are 27% more acidic than the surface waters. Though this may not be occuring in the deep waters of Alaska, it can be confirmed from this study that the deep waters can be indeed affected by ocean acidification and not just the surface waters, as people may think. Also, another counter argument would be that not all species in the deep waters of Alaska are affected so this may not even seem like a problem at all. Some deep sea animals are able to sustain the pH levels changing as researchers found in the Gulf of Alaska, for example, fish living in the deep sea were able to survive a whole month in an acidic environment. However, other species such as sea crabs living in the deep were unable to sustain the acidic environment in which they were living in. And most importantly, the central species of this research, deep sea corals, are extra vulnerable to this exposure and these corals hold many living marine animals which are more essential to the overall ocean cycle.
Humans are exerting a massive influence in the oceans with unforeseeable and potentially catastrophic consequences if anthropogenic carbon pollution continues to occur in oceans. Though urbanization may look like a positive change in population growth, it is important to take into consideration the effects a big city or town may have on the environment if no action is taken to prevent the loss of species.Though gorgonian corals are just one of the many species that live in the deep waters of Alaska, just one out of thousands should be a red flag for hundreds more that can be affected with a potential extinction of these corals. Knowing that these species are already intaking toxic chemicals and having negative changes to their environment; as Margaret Thatcher persuaded the nations, it is time for the people to take action before it is too late.