Ocean acidification is an "underwater time-bomb" that threatens fish stocks, marine life and coastal communities around the world, a Natural England report has warned.
The summary of the latest science of the “souring” of the oceans found ocean acidity has increased by a third since pre-industrial times because of a rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It is feared that if greenhouse gases continue to go up, sea water acidity could increase by 120 per cent by 2060 – greater than anything experienced in the past 21 million years.
This would destroy coral like the Great Barrier Reef as well as cold water corals around Britain.
The mass extinction of plants and animals on the ocean floor would lead to a fall in fish stocks, affecting the economy of coastal communities in many of the world’s poorest areas and threaten food shortages. Shell fish and fish larvae will also be affected.
Ocean Acidification: The Facts was presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said the report highlighted the importance of bringing greenhouse gases under control.
“Acidification of our seas is being directly linked to the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and our oceans are struggling to cope,” she said.
“The threat to the delicate balance of the marine environment cannot be overstated - this is a conservation challenge of unprecedented scale and highlights the urgent need for effective marine management and protection.”