With recent studies showing the world's oceans acidifying at an accelerating rate, scientists say coral reefs are at risk of dying out. But a student at London's Royal College of Art has come up with a possible solution. She has designed an artificial coral that, when placed in a reef, slowly dissolves over time releasing an alkaline solution to counteract the acidity. Matthew Stock reports.
Coral reefs are not only beautiful, but vital to marine ecosystems. They act as a buffer, protecting coastal communities from waves and storm surges, and are vital to local economies; for the seafood they harbour and the tourists they attract. But there are fears that ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is putting these delicate organisms in grave danger. The threat to coral reefs inspired Nell Bennett, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, to design a product that could mitigate the acidity of water around coral. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NELL BENNETT, STUDENT ON ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART'S INNOVATION DESIGN ENGINEERING (IDE) PROGRAMME, SAYING: "Oceans are becoming more acidic. Any coral skeleton that is exposed is becoming dissolved by the increasing acidity. It's a bit like your teeth; if you were to drink something sugary and acidic then it starts to attack the exposed part of your tooth. And this is what's happening with corals. And that happens and makes the corals very weak and then they crumble and die." Bennett came up with this novel solution: an artificial coral, made from mineral-rich alkaline materials - including calcium carbonate and sodium carbonate. When placed in a coral reef, the artificial coral slowly dissolves with the ocean current and acidity in the water, bathing the adjacent reef in alkaline water. Bennett concedes the idea would need at least a year of controlled real-world testing to establish how effective the dissolving coral would be. But she says the benefits to the environment and the simplicity of the design make it a viable solution. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NELL BENNETT, STUDENT ON ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART'S INNOVATION DESIGN ENGINEERING (IDE) PROGRAMME, SAYING: "I think the solution that I have produced is very resource-heavy, and I think many of the solutions to tackle ocean acidification would be. And, therefore, it's not necessarily so desirable on the outset unless you start looking at the value of what an ocean reef habitat is worth.... All it is is a type of material that dissolves within water. There's no big technology or distribution or anything that needs to be taught to a local community that may be willing to take it up." Experts say the pace of ocean acidification, increasing around 26 percent since the Industrial Revolution, is at its fastest level in at least 55 million years. Some believe that unless carbon dioxide emissions start to fall soon, existing coral reefs could all begin dying within a hundred years.