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How Sea Sponges Help

Autumn Marsh




Sea Sponges are a commonly underappreciated member of our aquatic ecosystem. What if you knew that Sea Sponges are one of the major contributors to the oceans’ carbon sinks? Or that there’s new research offering critical perspective-changing information about how much hotter the planet might be than previously thought?

While we are behind in realizing the importance of combating climate change, sea sponges have been doing the majority of the work for us this entire time. According to the United Nations, the ocean takes in about 25% of carbon dioxide emissions produced. The ocean also helps by producing a large portion of the oxygen we need while absorbing much of the access heat that comes from greenhouse gasses. Sea sponges are responsible for outputting silica into the ocean, which is necessary for the lifecycle of diatoms. Diatoms are a type of algae encased in glass, in their photosynthesis process they make carbon dioxide into organic carbon and oxygen. According to the European Commission, what’s different about diatoms is that when they die they take carbon dioxide to the sea floor with them and lock it down there. In studying the skeletons of sea sponges, the European Commission discovered that they produce upwards of 48 million tons of silica per year, increasing the ocean's carbon sink size by 28%.

That’s not the only remarkable discovery from the skeletons of sea sponges recently. In the current fight against global warming, it is crucial to keep the warming below 2 degrees Celcius and ideally less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. New research on sea sponge skeletons shows we may have already exceeded the 1.5-degree international policy.

According to ABC Science, a type of sea sponge called sclerosponges produces 0.25 millimeters of calcified skeleton yearly. It was found while studying the calcified layers of sclerosponges that these layers can date back to the early 1700s before the Industrial Revolution began when we started using fossil fuels enough to progress global warming to the point we’re at today. ABC Science surmises from the study that we’ve hit 1.7 degrees Celcius, 0.2 degrees above what scientists have been fighting to stay under. Science Media Direct quotes Dr. Shaun Fitzgerald stating that at this rate, we’re likely to hit the desired maximum of 2.0 degrees Celcius by the end of the 2020s. Meaning if we don’t change things now, by 2030 we will have exceeded the absolute maximum temperature increase scientists recommend.

Even scientists who weren’t involved in the study have confidence in the data produced. ABC Science included scientists such as Georgia Falster, a paleoclimatologist, who stated that this newly produced data lines up remarkably well with the data that scientists have been collecting since the 1900s from ships. This means the data is also verified by the hand-collected data that had been utilized to measure greenhouse gas emissions for around a century.

This isn’t good news for climate change and applies increased pressure on us to utilize as many systems as possible to reduce carbon dioxide as quickly as possible. Changing resource utilization combined with the push to fight for legislation that will force industries and big businesses to use climate-friendly energy sources. As individuals, we need to do what we can to become more climate-friendly through our daily actions and choices, while big businesses need to be forced into taking action that will protect our planet and reverse the damage that has been done.


Citations

1. Expert reaction to sponge skeleton data and passing 1.5C. Science Media Centre. (2024, February 5). https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-sponge-skeleton-data-and-passing-1-5c/

2. Kruijff, P. de. (2024, February 5). Sea Sponge Study suggests Earth has already surpassed 1.5C of warming. World may already be 1.7C warmer according to Puerto Rican sea sponge record - ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2024-02-06/sponge-skeleltons-show-earth-may-be-1-7c-warmer-already/103411646

3. New study highlights the role of sea sponges in combating climate ... European Commission. (n.d.). https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/411441-new-study-highlights-the-role-of-sea-sponges-in-combating-climate-change

4. United Nations. (n.d.). The ocean – the world’s Greatest Ally Against Climate change. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate-issues/ocean


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