Conservation & Science

Fragile butterflies of the sea

From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations will gather in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world. In advance of COP21, Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today’s post focuses, in words and video, on the impact ocean acidification is having on some small but significant ocean animals.


Acidification illustrationOur colleagues at the independent Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have been studying and documenting the lives of pteropods, swimming snails of the sea that play a critical role in ocean food webs. They’re delicate and beautiful animals, sometimes called “sea butterflies”, with interesting ways of finding food in the deep ocean. They’re also particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification, the change in chemistry that occurs as the ocean absorbs more of the rampant carbon dioxide produced when we burn fossil fuels.

Acidification is one of the most insidious ocean impacts of  rampant carbon dioxide emissions—one that threatens the integrity of food webs on which many ocean animals depend. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many other researchers, are looking closely at the effects ocean acidification is having on pteropods. It’s an urgent issue, one of many reasons for the world to act to reduce carbon emissions when global leaders convene in Paris for COP21.

Our MBARI colleagues have captured the beauty of deep sea pteropods in this video.

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