Oceans' rising acid levels have emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday.
The speed by which the oceans' acid levels has risen caught scientists off-guard, with the problem now considered to be climate change's "equally evil twin," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told The Associated Press.
"We've got sort of the perfect storm of stressors from multiple places really hammering reefs around the world," said Lubchenco, who was in Australia to speak at the International Coral Reef Symposium in the northeast city of Cairns, near the Great Barrier Reef. "It's a very serious situation."
Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing sea acidity. Scientists are worried about how that increase will affect sea life, particularly reefs, as higher acid levels make it tough for coral skeletons to form. Lubchenco likened ocean acidification to osteoporosis—a bone-thinning disease—because researchers are concerned it will lead to the deterioration of reefs.