Seas turning to acid as they soak up gases

LONDON - The Bay of Naples is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and glittering clear waters. For centuries, tourists have flocked to the region to experience its glories.

But beneath the waves scientists have uncovered an alarming secret: streams of gas bubbling up from the seabed around the island of Ischia.

"The waters are like a jacuzzi - there is so much carbon dioxide fizzing up from the seabed," said Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University, England. "Millions of litres of gas bubble up every day."

The gas streams have turned Ischia's waters into acid, and this has had a major impact on sea life and aquatic plants. Now marine biologists fear the world's seas could follow suit.

"Every day the oceans absorb more than 25 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said Dr Hall-Spencer. "If it were not for the oceans, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be far higher and the impact of climate change would be far worse. However, there is a downside: ocean acidification."

Scientists calculate that the seas are absorbing so much carbon dioxide they are 30 per cent more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The change has happened 100 times faster than any time during the past 20 million years.

Tomorrow hundreds of scientists will gather in Monaco for the "Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World". One focus of debate is likely to be the Plymouth study and another the dangers posed to fish larvae and the threat to commercial fish stocks.

UNDER ISCHIA'S WAVES

* Biodiversity of plants and fish has dropped by 30 per cent.
* Algae vital for binding coral reefs have been wiped out.
* Invasive "alien" species, such as sea-grasses, are thriving.
* Coral and sea urchins have been destroyed.
* Mussels and clams are failing to grow shells.

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