Killing Nemo

Scientists this week published a paper showing that ocean acidification due to climate change is killing clown fish made famous by the Disney film “Finding Nemo”.

Larvae of this lovely tropical fish will be severely affected by rising ocean acidity from climate change. Clown fish use their nose to navigate to safe habitat and are becoming lost as oceans soak up more CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

"What our study is showing is that animal behavior is affected by the acidification of the oceans," said lead researcher Dr Philip Munday of the of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. "It's opening our eyes to another issue of acidification that we need to be aware of."

Ocean acidity is increasing 100 times faster than any time in the last 650,000 years because of the enormous amount of carbon building up in the Earth’s atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

Scientists put the juvenile fish in water with a pH projected by the end of the century if climate change proceeds apace. The young clown fish were unable to distinguish between familiar smells or find suitable habitat – a finding that does not bode well for tropical fish in general.

"If acidification continues unabated, the impairment of sensory ability will reduce population sustainability of many marine species, with potentially profound consequences for marine diversity," wrote researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nor do scientists hold high hopes that species like the clown fish will be able to adapt to the unprecedented rapid change in ocean chemistry.

"Ocean pH has changed little over the past 650,000 years," wrote the researchers. "It is unlikely that genetic adaptation by most marine organisms will be able to ... keep pace with such a rapid rate of change."

Acidification is only part of the laundry list of impacts our continued burning of fossil fuels is having on world’s oceans. Lets not forget about dead zones, the decreasing ability of oceans to soak up CO2, or the terrifying prospect of ancient frozen methane burbling to the surface.

All of which is to say that Nemo would drive a Prius.

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