Climate Change Could Soon Remove Mussels From the Menu

A new study conducted by researchers at Washington University in Seattle has found that farming or fishing for mussels will be commercially unviable by 2100 if climate change continues at its current pace.

And the reason isn’t what you might think — it has nothing to do with the temperature of the ocean. Instead, the likely culprit is ocean acidity.

The problem lies in how the mollusks attach themselves to objects like rock or rope as they grow. Normally, mussels use a combination of adhesive proteins to cling in place, but if the surrounding water is too acidic, those attachment threads weaken.

And the attachments are vital to survival. They keep the mussels secure in tidal zones — where strong waves and currents protect them from predators, like crabs and sea stars — and help them filter plankton from the surrounding water for food.

Under current conditions, about 20 percent of mussels fall and end up lost on the sea floor due to weak attachments. However, if the pH of coastal waters drops below 7.6, researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of the shellfish will be lost, making them commercially unviable to raise.

Though farmers could potentially set up nets to catch the mussels that fall off, nothing would stop predators from swooping in and devouring them at low tide. Moving the mussels into different waters might be possible, but it’s likely to be so much trouble that farmers simply find a new line of work.

While it’s easy to dismiss the concerns of the shellfish industry as motivated purely by profit, the truth is that these changes have terrifying implications for ocean life in general.

Research indicates that the seas are already becoming too acidic for many other shellfish to survive, as it becomes harder and harder for the mollusks to build shells.

Oysters have been hit particularly hard, with the production of new “seed” — oyster larvae — plummeting by 80 percent between 2005 and 2009 in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s really terrifying about this research is that it only shows the effects on species that we carefully monitor — precisely because we harvest them commercially. It’s impossible to know how many other species are currently struggling to survive.

This is bad news for biodiversity, and it’s likely that, in many cases, we won’t even be aware of the damage until it’s too late.

The emerging research into ocean acidification and shellfish health should be a wake-up call. Like the devastating bleaching events occurring in the world’s coral reefs, the effects of climate change on our oceans are becoming more and more apparent each year.

The world needs to take strong action to curb carbon emissions now, before we lose our rich marine biodiversity forever.

Photo Credit: asands/Flickr

107 comments

Jim V
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Leong S
Leong S1 years ago

thank you...

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Robert N
Rob Chloe Sam N1 years ago

Climate change deniers are going cause even more damage if someting isn't done now, These people are a total threat to all humanity, That same threat needs to be eradicated for the survival of the human race.

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George L
George L1 years ago

Thanks for the information.

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Chen B
Chen Boon Fook1 years ago

thanks

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers1 years ago

Another species we're driving to extinction.

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Joe Le Gris
Joe Legris2 years ago

Wow that is terrible and scary, thanks for sharing.

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Andrea B.
.2 years ago

it's scary what is happening to our planet, Things need to change.

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Larry McDaniel
Larry McDaniel2 years ago

This is not good news. Something needs to be done to reverse warming and all the rest of the climate changes.

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