Mar 9 2011

What Role Is Ocean Acidification Playing In Shellfish Losses?

No new Pacific oysters recruiting to oyster “beds.”
Shellfish larvae dying at commercial hatcheries.
Corrosive, acidified seawater measured for the first time off the Pacific Coast.

These and other observations, beginning in 2005 on the West Coast, prompted members of the shellfish industry to seek help from scientists to explore what is causing the shellfish losses, what role ocean acidification (OA) and other factors might be playing, and how to adapt to sustain West Coast shellfish resources.

Scientists, oceanographers, state and federal agency managers, and industry members participated in a workshop in 2010 to frame the problems, assess what information is available and what is needed, and to suggest future actions.

Photo credit: Richard Wilson, Willapa Bay, WA

The California Current Acidification Network (C-CAN) evolved from that meeting as participants and others interested in ocean acidification agreed on the need to facilitate and enhance communications, education and research collaborations among scientists, academia, agencies and industry.

The need for education is clear:, Increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into the atmosphere, a consequence of fossil fuel use, are causing immediate, measurable impacts on ocean chemistry.

About one-third of the carbon dioxide produced every day around the world is absorbed by the oceans. As CO2 reacts with seawater, it lowers seawater pH and reduces the concentration of carbonate ions, an essential component in the calcium carbonate that makes up the shells of shellfish and the skeletons of corals. Recently scientists have begun measuring changes in ocean chemistry and investigating the possible consequences to marine life, food webs and people. These studies find that ocean acidification is ongoing and may have significant biological impacts. The West Coast is vulnerable to the enhanced ocean acidification associated with seasonal upwelling, potentially causing serious impacts to ecosystems and some recreationally and commercially important shellfish.

Watch this video produced by NBC Learn for more information.

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