Those of us in the “beach business” strive to understand the relationship with CO2 in the atmosphere and our ocean ecosystem. We know that the installation of an EnviroShore Stabilization System (ESS) will lead to a broadening and widening of a beach, providing for a constant supply of sand for dunes to rebuild and feed adjacent beaches. Dunes and wider beaches tend to slow inland water runoff into the ocean. It is a “buffer zone” and the benefits go beyond the obvious.
WHY ARE HEALTHY BEACHES SO IMPORTANT?
The oceans naturally absorb CO2 out of the air. While this sounds like a good thing, it’s not. Excessive absorption causes many problems for our marine friends.
CO2 in seawater combines to create a number of complexes such as carbonic acid. When enough CO2 is absorbed, ocean’s pH levels tend to go down – (acidify, this is bad). Healthy oceans are around 8.3 -8.4pH (slightly “alkaline”). As more CO2 is absorbed, more carbonic acid is created lowering the pH. (pH scale goes from 0-14, 7 is neutral, lower the number the more acidic –example battery acid is a 1 on the scale, lye is 14 – both will severely burn you.)
With the oceans, as the pH falls (become more acidic) there are a whole cascading set of problems that arise. The main problem with ocean acidification is marine organisms (clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters, krill, plankton and other critically important animals) can’t build shells, in warmer waters corals can no longer build reefs, and the basis of the food chain start to unravel.
To make matters worse, we land-dwellers contribute to eutrophication.
“Eutrophication” is an increase in chemical nutrients, typically compounds containing nitrogen or phosphorus, in an ecosystem. It can result in an increase in the ecosystem’s primary productivity (excessive plant growth and decay), and further effects including lack of oxygen and severe reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations. Even slight increases in these chemicals are highly detrimental to coral reefs, resulting in suffocating algae blooms.
In addition to land runoff, atmospheric anthropogenic (man-made / man-induced) fixed nitrogen can enter the open ocean. A study in 2008* found that this could account for around one third of the ocean’s external (non-recycled) nitrogen supply and up to three per cent of the annual new marine biological production. It has been suggested that accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment may have consequences as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
So, how can we help?
Our ESS systems can help slow eutrophication by building up wide, healthy beach buffer zones and durable, vegetated dunes. In doing so, we create a natural filter system that can help reduce additional CO2, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and other compounds that would have been released back into the atmosphere and water.
* Duce, R A and 29 others (2008) Impacts of Atmospheric Anthropogenic Nitrogen on the Open Ocean Science. Vol 320, pp 893–89