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Oysters Threatened by Ocean Acidification

Not all of the organisms at risk of ocean acidification  are as well-known as oysters.  Take pteropods – or “sea butterflies” – for example. You might not have heard of these critters, but they are a critical food item for marine fisheries, such as salmon, that are not otherwise vulnerable to acidification of the oceans.  Research indicates that – when exposed to ocean water with the acidity that is projected for the year 2100 – the shells of pteropods literally dissolve within 45 days. We are only just beginning to understand these larger ecosystem-scale impacts of acidification.

Atmospheric CO2 emissions are not the only source of ocean acidification; other human activities can compound the problem. For example, people’s activities on land – such as the use of fertilizer, and municipal and industrial wastewater production – can create runoff that causes algae to bloom in marine waters. When the bloom ends, the dying algal material sinks into deeper water and decays, consuming oxygen and releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the water.  The carbon dioxide released from this process of growth and decay has the same acidifying effect as carbon dioxide absorbed into seawater from the atmosphere.

Some amount of ocean acidification is inevitable – we’ve already emitted enough CO2 into the atmosphere to cause significant changes to ocean chemistry.  That is not a reason for inaction, however – the sooner we act to stem the sources of acidification, the more limited its impacts will be and the better we will be able to protect our shellfish industry and marine ecological systems.

At least one state is not waiting to act. Late last year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, announced the first major state-level effort to protect valuable shellfish industries and marine life from the impacts of ocean acidification.  Responding to a report by the State Blue Ribbon Panel she commissioned, Gov. Gregoire directed state agencies to take steps to reduce pollutants that contribute to acidification.

The report includes 42 recommendations for state action, including reducing CO2 emissions, reducing land-based contributions to acidification, and increasing our ability to adapt to, monitor and document  its impacts. These recommendations are equally applicable to other states (hint hint, California).

Sarah G. Newkirk is Coastal Project Director for The Nature Conservancy in California. This post is adapted from a recent California blog series on Planet Change, devoted to enhancing the conversation on climate change and inspiring actions of all sizes. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Photo 2 by: Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC, Flickr user NOAA Photo Library (Zooplankton including “Octopus” and pteropod on right. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

Read more: Environment, Green, Make a Difference, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues, , , , , , ,

By Sarah G. Newkirk, The Nature Conservancy

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40 comments

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10:29AM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

thanks for sharing

3:57PM PDT on Mar 14, 2013

eggs,
and hot dogs,
and sausage,
and pepperoni,
and white clam chowder eating
sea-food vegetarian!!

3:51AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

No1 should eat these ! GO VEGAN !

11:11AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

I'm with Katherine W.-no surprise here! We will everything in our way

10:01AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

Well knock me over with a feather............I'm shocked to learn this......NOT! Yet another endangered species because of us humans.

7:47AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

Seems a shame to show that picture with the article. It gives the impression that people are only concerned because it is affecting the food supply. We are destroying the oceans and all the life in it and we should stop because of the suffering we are causing. I know that is not the most productive approach to take with most of the population. People really only care about things that affect themselves. You do what you have to do and employ whatever tactics will work to bring about change. I guess the reason I found the picture so upsetting is because my son has pet mussels in his fresh-water aquarium. He works so hard to keep them alive and healthy. I just couldn't imagine eating a creature like that. We need to plant more trees to help clean the air so that all this CO2 doesn't settle in the oceans as well as reducing emissions.

6:34AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

we need to find methods of maximising water recycling in industries and on the site disposal of waste of all kinds(including re-use) and reduction if not elimination of chemicals in agriculture replacing these with biodegradable environment friendly material all of which is within the realm of feasibility.
If only we have the will!

4:23AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

thanks for the info

5:58PM PDT on Mar 10, 2013

thanks

12:39PM PDT on Mar 10, 2013

SAD

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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