Hello, my name is Terry and I’m a pteropod. What exactly is a pteropod? Well, I’m also called a sea butterfly and I have been described as a “coffee bean with wings.” What I really am is a marine snail that is about the size of a lentil, which is less than half an inch long. My terrestrial snail cousins have a hard shell on the outside and a soft body inside, while my shell is on my inside and my gelatinous goo is on the outside.
Why am I important? Well if polar bears are the poster animals for the melting polar ice caps due to global warming, then I am the poster invertebrate for ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is also due to global warming as a rise in ocean temperatures can cause seawater pH to drop and become more acidic.
So how does the ocean become more acidic? Well the same carbon dioxide emissions that warm our atmosphere and cause global warming ultimately become absorbed by the oceans. The oceans cover more than 70% of the planet. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water and make it more acidic, like soda. While the seawater in the ocean is not turning into Coke, a sprinkle here and there of acidic water can have devastating effects on ocean life.
Ocean acidification will directly affect me, my descendents, and my planktonic peers as my inner shell will dissolve as the water around me becomes more acidic. I will die. While I have a fairly short lifespan of a few months (to years if I escape being eaten!) to begin with, it is the new gap in the bottom of the food chain that will be troubling. Fish won’t have anything to eat, and the larger animals that eat them will be hungry too. Imagine if on land all the grass and insects suddenly got wiped out. Then everything from birds, deer, and bears would be scrambling around for new food sources or face extinction.
So, what can you do to help? What you are hopefully already doing to curb global warming: driving less, carpooling, taking public transportation, and exploring the use of alternative energies. The 3 R’s help too: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Also support efforts to create Marine Protected Areas around the globe. Less than 1% of the oceans are protected versus 12% of land being protected. Don’t forget to spread the word, as we can all make a difference by being informed!
UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: Scientists have found that pteropods are being affected by ocean acidification now, as opposed to a previous prediction of 2038. Link to article here