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Carbon dioxide's toxic effect on earth's coral reefs and shellfish

While we're well aware of the damage done to our atmosphere, the ramifications for our oceans is just as damaging.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Most people realize that carbon dioxide is not a good thing in the atmosphere, but all that gas in the air is also being absorbed by the ocean.

"They call it the Evil Twin to Global Warming. The bulk of carbon dioxide doesn't stay in the atmosphere it goes into solution into the ocean," said Dr. Pat Abbot, a geologist in San Diego County.

Dr. Abbott says it is increasing the acidity of the ocean.

"Where we see it now is in the news items, this massive white bleaching of coral reef of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These massive areas with white dead coral."

The effects of acidity can be found in Southern California's oceans.

"We see it off our coastline here with the eatable blue mussel Mytilus Edulis. We see it by the measurement of their shells, we see they're 30% thinner."

The higher levels of acidity make it hard for shellfish and coral to develop.

"So, we see the acidity on the organisms living in the ocean in particular those that build with calcium bicarbonate."

Scientists measure acidity with a PH level. Seven is neutral while anything lower is acidic and anything higher is considered alkaline.

"Some measurements say PH 35 years ago was at about 8.12 and now is 8.06. When you say the numbers, it doesn't sound like a huge drop, but remember the extent of the ocean... 71% of the surface of the earth."

The change may seem subtle, but when you consider oceans cover 71% of the planet, it can absorb large amounts of carbon and is why acidity levels are on the rise.

"So, the huge volume of water is extra huge compared to the capacity of the Earth's atmosphere. it's much easier to store it in the water than in the air."

As big as the problem seems, Abbott believes collectively, we can change the direction.

"We need to do something to offset that. Yes, we can have a positive effect, it's small and I don't want to underestimate the size and have people throw up their arms and give up. You can do things."