Ocean Acidification May Threaten National Food Security, Say Experts

cean acidification linked to climate change may threaten the national food security, say experts.The country's food security is at risk of being affected when oceans become hotter and acidified due to the increasing amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission in the upper atmosphere, they said.

Director-General of the Department of Fisheries (DOF) Datuk Adnan Hussain said the natural biological process (OA) has the potential to negatively affect the national food security by jeopardising the entire range of fish that inhabit the ocean.

He said the national overall fish landings saw a significant decline from year to year. Citing figures, he added, the volume of fish landings in Malaysia in 2022 amounted to 1.31 million metric tonnes from 1.32 million metric tonnes in the previous year. The overall national fish landings in 2020 stood at 1.38 million metric tonnes.

"This is a serious issue. It is clear that a downward trend is truly happening right now. Hence, we need to act fast to address the problem. We have to think about the welfare of 116,000 registered fishermen in the nation who rely heavily on fishing for their livelihood," he told Bernama in a recent interview.

 He said despite a minor loss in fish harvest in recent years, the decline was not too substantial as of now, but all those involved in the fishing sector must be ready to deal with any of the climate change consequences.



Reflecting the adversity caused by global warming ,Adnan said that a large number of pallergic fish (fish that live on the surface of the water oceans) such as kembung (mackerel) and selayang (round scad) had been reported to migrate to cooler oceans, owing to the nation’s oceans getting hotter.

"When fish flee from their original zone or habitat that is typically the area focus of the fishermen, it actually makes it more difficult for the fishermen given that they are forced to expand the reach of the fishing area in comparison to the fishing zone or region where they usually catch. This could possibly be one of the reasons why some of our fishermen have reported an overall reduction in fish catch,” he   explained.

As of 2022, local fishermen have harvested 1.31 million metric tonnes of fish landings, accounting for 69 percent of the entire local fish supply.--fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

At the same time, the coral reef bleaching that is currently happening in the oceans because of the climate change can also pose a threat to the current fish population because the reef serves as a breeding and nursing location for fish.

Besides fishermen, individuals in the aquaculture business, especially those engaged in fish and prawn growing in cages, have also been badly affected by the repercussion of climate change.

This is evidenced by the recent chain of dangerous algae bloom explosions including Red Tide Algae that impacted numerous states, including Penang and Perak, causing significant economic losses to local aquaculture enterprises.

He said that if the surrounding ocean temperatures rise, such algae can spread aggressively, causing fish reared in cages to suffocate owing to a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water when the algae are abundant in the same places.

"Therefore, we are tirelessly working on a special early warning system to monitor the existence of red tide algae so that aqua-culturists can take preventive measures to ensure that their caged fish are safe from the threat of such invasive algae," he said.



Adnan said that the DOF has developed and adopted different mitigation techniques to ensure that the fisheries and aquaculture industries can continue to be resilient to the effects of climate change and global warming, noting that such mitigation measures are also expected to continue providing assistance to fishermen and aquaculture industry participants as needed.

Mitigation actions must be executed because he believes that experts' predictions that oceans all over the world would become overly acidic and threaten marine biodiversity within the next 100 years, are not to be taken lightly.

"As a result, we must prepare early to face any adverse possibility. In the long run, we will cut the number of trawler boat vessel licences issued and will only keep the current number of 64,000 boat vessels. This means that no new boat vessel licences involving fishing zones of 30 nautical miles or less will be issued.

"DOF referred to this action as an exit policy measure. It is because such boats utilise a lot of diesel and petrol, which emits a lot of carbon dioxide smoke into the sky and then absorbed by the oceans," he said.

Furthermore, his department is developing a way to detect plankton in the ocean using satellite technology, which will allow fishermen to receive direct messages from this system to their boat vessel's navigation system.

The coral reef bleaching in the oceans because of ocean acidification can pose a threat to the current fish population. --fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

"With this type of technology, fishermen no longer need to linger around the ocean looking for fish. This is because fish will congregate in places with a lot of plankton as their food supply. This technology will also allow fishermen to spend less time on the ocean and use less petrol and diesel fuel,” he added.

Commenting on the 2023 Budget that was presented by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim recently, Adnan said that the government is dedicated to assisting any group of fishermen who may see a gradual decline in fish catch given the effects of climate change and an upsurge in the cost of living.

"A total of RM2.6 billion has been allotted in this budget for rice farmers and fishermen in the form of subsidies and incentives. Fishermen would also get a RM300 monthly subsistence allowance and a Fisherman's Catch Incentive of up to RM1,000 per month, as well as RM10 million to build new and restore old fishermen's houses.

"Hopefully, such initiatives will help those who have seen a decrease in their daily fish catch due to a variety of factors. Currently, the haze is affecting the country as a result of global warming and the El Nino phenomenon, which means they cannot venture out to the ocean for a while due to health factors. Plus, it is quite dangerous for them to drive a boat in hazy conditions," he said, adding that the DOF has also advised all fishermen to contribute to group insurance to ensure their welfare is guaranteed in the event of any accident while at sea.



Meanwhile, Dr Ong Meng Chuan, an Associate Professor at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu's (UMT) Faculty of Science and Marine Environment, who describes climate change and ocean acidification as ‘twin silent killers of marine life’  believes that the government, with the cooperation of all parties, must always investigate and stop the source of open burning cases wherever it happens throughout the country. 

This is because he sees it as one of the most effective short-term solutions, given how difficult it is to manage all of the industries such as manufacturing and transportation that utilise fossil fuels and emit a lot of carbon dioxides.

"In Malaysia, practically almost all industries still use fossil fuels to power their machinery and facilities, which is why I emphasise how tough it is to manage them because these industries are critical to national development.

"However, one of the immediate and appropriate alternative measures is to reduce the intensity of open burning cases. Hereby, I support the government's decision to activate the National Open Burning Action Plan on April 2. If the government can raise the value of existing compounds or suits, it will undoubtedly scare the public from doing so,” he said.

Rows of fishing boats docked at the Sabak jetty following most fishermen not going to sea after the lack of fish caught in recent times. --fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

For open burning offences, offenders can be fined up to RM500,000 or imprisoned for up to five years or both based on the provisions of Section 29 (A), Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127).

Malaysia aims to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the economy by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels as part of the nation’s responsibilities toward overall global climate targets.

Ong also urged the government to explore more initiatives regarding the utilisation of electric vehicles (EVs), which are scientifically proven to conserve more energy and emit less carbon dioxide.

“But the main issue right now is that EVs are still not popular enough among consumers, possibly due to limited production of national electric vehicles and a shortage of charging infrastructure.

"However, if it can be implemented within a few more years, we will certainly be able to control the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) print produced in a progressive way. This will ultimately reduce the burden of ocean water from absorbing it and  restabilise the pH level of seawater to a normal level that is clinically safe for the underwater environment in the near future," the oceanography expert said.


Edited by Salbiah Said

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