Acid rain and lobster shells

Could acid rain trigger shell disease in lobsters?

Professor Joseph G. Kunkel, a teacher and researcher in University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Biology Department, began scientifically proving a definitive answer to that important question two years ago. Kunkel is one of 10 investigators in an ongoing Rhode Island Sea Grant-funded Lobster Health Initiative Study that will end in 2010.

“What is becoming an issue (with the shell disease) is the pH (of the coastal waters) south of Cape Cod. A healthy pH range for lobsters to live in is 7.85 and above,” Kunkel explained. “Lobsters don’t like acidic conditions.”

Most seawater has a pH of about 8.3. Any pH reading below 7 is considered acidic.

“The cuticle linings are pH-sensitive,” he added. “Lobsters can’t make their shells properly since CaCo3 isn’t readily available under acidic conditions.

“Why do 50 percent of the lobsters in Narragansett Bay have shell disease and most of the remainder have had it and molted it out?” Kunkel asks. “Is this a case where the bacteria (directly) caused the shell disease, or did they take advantage of a situation?”

The pH samples for that area’s water have already revealed numbers below the safe 7.85 pH.

Peter K. Prybot, Gloucester Daily Times online, 25 April 2009. Full article.

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