Shellfish Growers Feeling Economic Hit as Ocean Acidifies (Op-Ed)
Credit: Screenshot from Climate Nexus video.

Julia Roberson directs Ocean Conservancy's ocean acidification program. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Numerous studies have revealed the effects of changing ocean chemistry on marine life, and many of the findings are disturbing. However, as Katherine Gammon reported in her Oct. 2012 LiveScience article "Oysters' Future Imperiled as Oceans Acidify," the harmful effects of acidification on bivalve species such as oysters, clams and mussels are happening now, and have been happening for a while.

A few years ago, oyster growers operating in waters off the U.S. West Coast began experiencing devastating losses of juvenile oysters — up to 80 percent of their typical harvest — due to increasingly corrosive seawater. These oysters were not able to extract enough calcium carbonate to build their shells. Cold water is naturally low in calcium carbonate, so the effects of more acidic seawater have been documented first in the Pacific Ocean. The effects of acidification have also recently been felt by Maine clammers on the U.S. East Coast, who are reporting weaker shells, due, in part, to more acidic waters. 

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The good news is states are beginning to take action to help people who earn their living in the shellfish business. When West Coast growers suffered a devastating harvest loss, funding was made available to develop monitoring systems that enabled these businesses to tackle acidification. In late August 2013, California announced a West Coast science panel that builds on the efforts of Washington State to respond to ocean acidification. In June 2013, the Maine legislature passed a resolution identifying acidification as a major threat to Maine's economy and culture.

And last month, the XPRIZE Foundation announced its next major competition, the Wendy Schmidt Global Ocean Health XPRIZE competition for the best ideas for better, cheaper, more accessible sensors to monitor ocean acidification. Once developed, these sensors will bolster existing efforts by U.S. states and the shellfish industry to monitor what's changing in seawater, as well as how fast it's changing.

Shellfish growers are now seeking support from national policy makers. Representatives of the Pacific and East Coast shellfish growers associations, Margaret Pilaro Barrette and Bob Rheault, together with other growers, met recently with members of the U.S. Congress and officials from President Barack Obama's administration. Barrette and Rheault described the escalating threat to shellfish and requested that Congress fully fund much-needed research under the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act.

For more on the damaging effects of ocean acidification on shellfish, watch the video.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.