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Australia's oceans are safe, and other lies you can tell yourself.

February 17, 2020

As of September 2019, Australia has been on fire. Bushfires have caused the  destruction of over 27 million acres of land, and have resulted in mass loss of both human and animal lives. Scientists now fear for many delicate ecosystems, however, marine ecosystems don't seem to be considered in that equation. 

The fires are concentrated mainly around Australia's Southeast coast, in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, and it seems that marine life will be the unseen victims of this disaster. More than 1.7 million hectares of land have burned, and fires continue to rage across the country. A marine campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Adrian Meder, says that the fires are leaving behind a huge number of charred plants and a massive amount of ash. 

Australia is home to some of the most diverse marine habitats on the planet. Its seas support over 4,000 types of fish, and 1,700 species of coral. Anyone who's been to Australia knows this, and some may have been lucky enough to see the spectacular Great Barrier Reef. I don't think anyone realises how these fires that are currently raging across the country can seriously damage this amazing part of nature. 

How exactly will the ocean be affected? Well. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere constantly, and the oceans naturally absorb one third of the gas, which is an acceptable level of Co2. Due to the burning of fossil fuels and the impact of deforestation, Co2 emissions are rising at a rapid rate. Fires also release Co2 as a product of combustion. The bushfires are releasing a massive amount of extra Co2 into the atmosphere, and the ocean is acting as a sink, pulling Co2 into the water. 

Anyone who has a knowledge of science knows that when Co2 reacts with water, it creates a carbonic acid. There are now higher levels of carbonic acid in the ocean surrounding Australia. Known as acidification, this has a negative effect on animals that create calcium carbonate skeletons and shells. The acid causes the bones and shells to become brittle, resulting  in breakage, which injures animals if their bones break, and leaves shelled animals extremely vulnerable, as their defence mechanisms are compromised. 

Australia is known for its marine diversity, with many of its creatures and plants being unique to the country. Some species are also important for Australia commercially. For example, in 2015, seafood production totalled 246, 100 tonnes. These fires are bad news for fisheries. Seafood products such as oysters, crustaceans and abalone rely on their shells that are predominantly calcium rich. Acidification will undoubtedly cause depletion of such animals, which will in turn affect these companies. 

Research is also being done to show how ash from the wildfires impacts marine ecosystems. Harmful objects and chemicals are making their way into the water,  potentially impacting phytoplankton, which will of course turn the rest of the marine food web on its head. Though research on this particular issue is only emerging, it is hoped that the recent fires in California, and now the current fires burning Australia will encourage scientists to look further into this question. 

While I am only a student in the small island of Ireland, I believe something has to be done. These fires aren't just something Australia has to deal with. The rise in temperatures has caused the bush to become increasingly dry, causing the fires, which impacts both land and sea, and yes, we can't stop fire from doing what fire does, but we do need to work to protect our oceans. If sea levels rise, we're all at risk of major flooding, particularly islands. Marine life suffers massively, and unique species go extinct or become extinct. As humans, we need to of course survive, but we need to learn to live alongside nature. Australia is on fire. Can you hear? Australia is on fire. 

Australia is on fire, and both land and sea are suffering. Mother Earth is crying out for help. We must help her. 


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