Little is known about how biogeochemical processes in permeable sediments affect the pH of coastal waters. We demonstrate that seawater recirculation in permeable sands can play a major role in proton (H+) cycling in a coral reef lagoon. The diel pH range (up to 0.75 units) in the Heron Island lagoon was the broadest ever reported for reef waters, and the night‐time pH (7.69) was comparable to worst‐case scenario predictions for seawater pH in 2100. The net contribution of coarse carbonate sands to the whole system H+ fluxes was only 9% during the day, but approached 100% at night when small scale (i.e., flow and topography‐induced pressure gradients) and large scale (i.e., tidal pumping as traced by radon) seawater recirculation processes were synergistic. Reef lagoon sands were a net sink for H+, and the sink strength was a function of porewater flushing rate. Our observations suggest that the metabolism of advection‐dominated carbonate sands may provide a currently unknown feedback to ocean acidification.