Santa Monica is a world-renowned destination and community with its oceanfront shops, ferris wheel, pier — and, of course, the ocean. What goes unseen is the toll ocean acidification is taking on marine life and biodiversity just offshore. Oceans act as a carbon sink, absorbing a quarter to a third of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. As humans emit increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, more and more gets absorbed. That lowers seawater pH and increases the ocean’s acidity. Even these slight changes in chemistry threaten to disrupt the natural balance, resulting in habitat destruction and marine life loss. Ocean acidification is a silent, destructive force, and eye-grabbing headlines on its impacts often come too late. A tragic example of this is the death of large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is largely due to warming temperatures and increasing acidity. 

For our project, we are partnering with The Bay Foundation to identify impacts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide input within the Santa Monica Bay. In addition to global emissions, there are many local, man-made sources of carbon dioxide that can dramatically affect the pH, carbonate chemistry, and other oceanographic parameters in Santa Monica Bay. Last year, a UCLA Practicum team worked with the Bay Foundation to assess the potential for kelp forests in the bay to serve as a refuge for marine life from ocean acidification. We plan to further this research and advance the Bay Foundation’s work to identify the magnitude of coastal ocean acidification in the bay.

Our team will be comparing sea kelp and eelgrass to determine which is a better carbon sequester. With the utilization of instruments that we have at hand and UCLA’s research Zodiac, we will be collecting parameters within areas of sea kelp, eelgrass, and a control sight to compare and contrast data trends after further analysis. Through our work we aim to show how human activities or natural phenomena may cause local variations in dissolved carbon dioxide levels and pH at the ocean’s surface in the Santa Monica Bay. We hope our study will increase awareness of human impact on the bay and susceptibility of marine life inhabiting these waters.

Team: Anna George, Noah Horvath, Destiny Johnson, Eileen Ly, Roajhaan Sakaki, Shang Shi
Advisor: Rob Eagle

Client: The Bay Foundation
The Bay Foundation is a non-profit environmental group founded in 1990 to restore and enhance Santa Monica Bay and local coastal waters.