Cook Islands’ fisheries at risk from ocean acidification

By Tierney Smith

Island nations could face a food crisis as climate change and ocean acidification destroy their fish stocks.

A new study released today by environmental group Oceana ranks the Cook Islands in the South Pacific as the country most vulnerable to food insecurity caused by increasingly acidic oceans. New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands, Comoros and Kiribati complete the report’s top five ‘most at risk’.

The increasing acidity of the oceans – a consequence of increased CO2 levels – is threatening habitats such as coral reefs and the future of shellfish including oysters, clams and mussels. Under business-as-usual scenarios scientists say oceans could be 150% more acidic by 2100.

More than a billion of the poorest people in the world rely on fish for their primary source of protein.

It is predicted that oceans could be 150% more acidic by 2100, threatening the survival of many coral reef habitats (Source: USFWS Pacific/Creative Commons)

Oceana says coastal and small island nations are likely to suffer as they have fewer resources to replace destroyed fisheries with.

“For most of these island nations, seafood is the cheapest and most readily available source of protein,” Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist at Oceana says. “Most small-scale fisherman simply aren’t capable of following fish into distant waters as climate change and ocean acidification wreaks havoc on coastal resources.”

The study also examined the impact rising ocean temperatures – another effect of climate change – could have on fish stocks. Along with the Maldives and Comoros island nations, several larger oil-producing countries were also found to be vulnerable.

Iran (4), Kuwait (7) and the United Arab Emirates (10) could be affected as fish driven into deeper, colder waters and migrate to the poles.


The report notes several steps can be taken to minimise the impact of climate change and acidification, including:

– Reducing carbon dioxide emissions

– Ending fossil fuel subsidies

–  Stopping overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices

– Establishing marine protected areas

– Managing fisheries with climate change in mind

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