Posted by: Kelsey Schueler
While climate change denying luddites may say that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide isn’t changing our environment, oysters and other shellfish might disagree. If current trends continue, ocean acidification could reduce U.S. shellfish harvests by 25% over the next 50 years. Baby oysters can’t develop their shells in the acidic and corrosive waters, which means high mortality rates. This is bad news not only for the oysters, but also for the oyster industry. A critical component of the coastal economy, the industry provides thousands of jobs. Thus, ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest threatens the triple bottom line: people, profit, and the planet.
Today, the ocean is 30% more acidic than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Decreasing pH (pH goes down, acidity goes up) limits available carbonate, which shellfish need for their shells. Tides, waves and upwelling increase the impacts of ocean acidification on the Pacific Northwest, and the shellfish industry is suffering the first causalities, with regional oyster production dropping 20-30% in recent years. Last summer, many hatcheries were struggling to cope, so ocean champion Sen. Maria Cantwell ensured that new resources were devoted to water quality monitoring.
The shellfish industry provides thousands of jobs and is worth approximately $270 million a year to the U.S. economy. Whole communities depend on the shellfish industry for their survival. If we lose the shellfish industry, we also lose the cultural diversity in the communities it sustains. Technology has helped producers deal with acidification for now, but future climate models show that technology may not be enough.
Oysters are important not only to people and profits, but also to the planet. These helpful critters absorb CO2 and nitrogen, thus improving water quality. In fact one oyster can filter 30-40 gallons of water a day and reduce nitrogen pollution by 20%! Oyster reefs reduce wave action and storm surge, protecting our shores from erosion. Fewer oysters could lead to more toxic algae and dead zones, and more damaging storm surges.
Oysters are not the only species impacted by acidification. Pteropods, little sea snails that are a key food source, are also vulnerable to acidification. Disruptions to any one part of the ecosystem are sure to have cascading impacts throughout the food chain.
While we continue working towards comprehensive climate policy, we are fortunate to have leaders like Sen. Maria Cantwell working to protect her constituents in the Pacific Northwest. Her efforts to secure funding for NOAA regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems have provided the industry with critical tools for monitoring ocean acidification. Using this technology, oyster growers can monitor fluctuations in water quality, avoiding the most corrosive and acidic waters.
Date Posted: October 30, 2013 @ 9:53 am Comments Off