The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is making public statements, accusing federal agencies of not working hard enough to prevent acidification of oceans, as required under a 2009 law.
Ocean acidification is driven by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as the gas can form carbonic acid when combined with water. The process can harm marine life, including both plants and animals.
Oysters, clams and other mollusks exposed to ocean acidification could develop improperly-constructed shells. Coral reefs that help protect coastal communities from flood damage could also be affected by increasingly acidic oceans. The growth and survival of a wide number of species could be impacted by the environmental problem. More acidic water can also alter food webs, potentially changing the relationship between predator and prey, the report warns.
"These changes may pose risks for some marine species and ecosystems, as well as for the coastal communities that rely on them for food and commerce. [The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM)] requires various federal entities to take specific actions related to ocean acidification," the report explains.
A federal task form has been created, charged with developing means of raising awareness of the environmental problem among government agencies. The group will also attempt to formulate plans by which the government could respond to the threat.
Oceans act as a sink, absorbing carbon dioxide emitted by factories and vehicles. Some climatologists believe the global ocean could be storing up to 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released by human beings since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
"The current rate of acidification is believed to be faster than at any point in at least the last 20 million years," the GAO reported.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is among the agencies being named by the GAO. The FOARAM law established the Ocean Acidification (OA) program at NOAA as part of a coordinated plan to combat increasing acidity in the world's largest waterways. The GOA is charging the agency responsible for managing the atmosphere and oceans has not properly developed a planned budget needed for monitoring and research.
Without proper restraints, the problem of ocean acidification could create a runaway effect on the environment, creating additional damage to coastal areas, some climatologists believe.
"Some agency officials told GAO that not providing budget estimates has prevented the agencies and Congress from accurately understanding the funding needed to implement the plan and how it compares with current funding levels," Government Accountability Office officials stated in a press release.