The ocean has absorbed about one third of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the industrial revolution, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate. However, this massive input of CO2 is generating global changes in the chemistry of seawater, especially on the carbonate system. These changes are collectively referred to as ocean acidification because increased CO2 lowers seawater pH (i.e., increases its acidity).
Recent studies have shown that the resulting decrease in ocean pH will make it more difficult for marine calcifying organisms, such as corals, molluscs, and calcareous plankton, to form biogenic calcium carbonate, and existing calcium carbonate structures will become vulnerable to dissolution. Thus, ongoing acidification of the oceans poses a threat to ocean-based security. There are concerns that marine ecosystems will change, that biodiversity will be lost, and that important ecosystem services that human societies depend upon for food security, livelihoods, and coastal protection could be significantly impacted. Unfortunately, the effects of ocean acidification on organisms and ecosystems remain poorly understood, with most of our knowledge based on simplified laboratory experiments.
The Western Pacific and its adjacent regions are among the richest and most productive in the world as a home to more than 600 coral species (more than 75% of all known coral species) and ~53% of the worlds coral reefs. Most Southeast Asian coastal communities are socially and economically dependent upon coral reef ecosystems and an estimated 70-90% of fish caught in Southeast Asia are dependent on coral reefs. Globally, it has been estimated that coral reefs support greater than 25% of all known marine species.
Despite the recognition that ocean acidification from increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 represents a major global threats to coral reefs and other calcifying marine organisms, awareness of the impacts of this other CO2 problem has emerged only over the last decade. The ecosystem responses to ocean acidification are poorly understood in the region and more research and long-term monitoring are critically needed to develop meaningful projections on future impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystem, especially on coral reefs, in the region to enable resource and fisheries managers, and policy makers to develop effective long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies for the people of the region.
In this context, the UNESCO/IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) is committed to establishing a regional research and monitoring network on ocean acidification in the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions, as part of global efforts and with technical assistance of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to monitor the ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems, mainly through a series of regional trainings & workshops, selection of pilot areas, and transfer of knowledge and technology among experts, institutions within and outside the region.
So far three consecutive regional workshops have been developed and conducted on Research and Monitoring of the Ecological Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reef Ecosystems (19-21 January 2015, 2628 August 2015, and 2931 August 2016).
This voluntary commitment aims to continue developing and strengthening countries capacity for research and monitoring the ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems.
Updates to voluntary commitment
Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
Type of commitment
- Adaptation to more acidic ocean conditions
- Scientific research and cooperation to address ocean acidification knowledge gaps
Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
Type of commitment
- Scientific, socioeconomic and interdisciplinary research
- Research capacity development
- Data access and sharing
- Training and professional development
- Scientific cooperation
- Transfer marine technology
Finalization of a set of regionally specific SOPs, respectively on Total Alkalinity, Spectrophotometric pH, Biology, and Carbonate Collection and Handling;
hands on exercises conducted and technical assistance provided in several pilot sites, related to seawater collection and handling for chemistry, Total Alkalinity (TA) and pH measurement, Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) and Calcification Accretion Units (CAUs) recovery and processing.
monitoring capacity well established in at least half of selected pilot sites in UN Member States in the region, and regional research and monitoring network strengthened.
information exchanged on ocean acidification monitoring and research approaches, methods and techniques; existing monitoring capacity examined; pilot sites selected; and consensus reached on the development of a consistent, comparable and cost-effective Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for monitoring the ecological impacts of ocean acidification, building upon existing reef monitoring systems/capacity.