Historical ecological datasets from a coastal marine community of crustose coralline algae (CCA) enabled the documentation of ecological changes in this community over 30 years in the Northeast Pacific. Data on competitive interactions obtained from field surveys showed concordance between the 1980s and 2013, yet also revealed a reduction in how strongly species interact. Here, we extend these empirical findings with a cellular automaton model to forecast ecological dynamics. Our model suggests the emergence of a new dominant competitor in a global change scenario, with a reduced role of herbivory pressure, or trophic control, in regulating competition among CCA. Ocean acidification, due to its energetic demands, may now instead play this role in mediating competitive interactions and thereby promote species diversity within this guild.