Alexis Valauri-Orton – At the Our Ocean Conference in 2016, The Ocean Foundation made a commitment through the International Ocean Acidification Initiative to train 50 scientists around the world to monitor ocean acidification (OA).
In 2017, we committed to expand our initiative by training policymakers, and, in 2018, we committed to building OA resilience in the seafood sector. Since making that first Our Ocean commitment we have seen incredible success, but with a few surprises along the way.
OA is the rapid and unprecedented decrease in the ocean’s pH due to CO2 emissions. As the ocean becomes more acidic, animals like shellfish and coral struggle to form their shells and skeletons. The chemosensory systems of sharks, salmon, and clownfish go haywire. Entire food webs and ecosystems are expected to change, and possibly even collapse.
Complicating things, OA varies regionally and over time. This makes local data absolutely necessary for island and coastal communities to make management decisions.
To measure OA, you need to collect water samples and preserve them so that the chemistry doesn’t change between collecting the sample on a boat and analysing it in the lab. A key ingredient to this preservation? Thick rubber bands. The “standard operating procedure” requires that you use a pyrex glass bottle to take the sample, seal it using grease that prevents gasses from escaping the bottle, snap on a plastic clip that locks the bottle stopper in place, and wrap it with a thick rubber band that keeps everything together.
Of all the things needed to measure OA, ranging from sophisticated sensors to specialised pH probes, rubber bands didn’t strike me as particularly vital, until I got a Skype call from Dr Yashvin Neehaul, a researcher at the Mauritius Oceanographic Institute.
I had recently helped him set up an OA monitoring system. “Alexis,” he said, “I can’t find the rubber bands we need in Mauritius. They only sell the thin ones. I’ve run out, so we can’t collect samples anymore.”
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