Climate change endangers shellfish

A Native American name for Long Island, Sewanhacky, meant “Island of Shells.”

It referred to the vast numbers of clam, oyster and other shells deposited on its shores. Ancient mounds of empty shells, called middens, show researchers today how important shellfish were in the early diet.

But shellfish, one of the state’s most historic industries, now face an invisible yet mounting attack from global climate change, according to a study from researchers at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Increasing fossil fuel emissions of carbon dioxide, in addition to rising average global temperatures, also are causing changes in ocean chemistry that threaten any creature making a shell, such as shellfish, as well as coral reefs and plankton, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Known as ocean acidification, the process occurs when CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean, where it converts into carbonic acid.



As CO2 levels have started to climb, the oceans have grown more acidic. That is expected to continue if CO2 emissions are not reduced.

Researchers at Stony Brook found that hard clams, bay scallops and Eastern oysters failed to mature and grow normally when exposed to the levels of CO2-induced acidity that are projected by the end of the century if CO2 emissions continue on their current path. “We found a dramatic decrease in survival rates,” said Stephanie Talmage, a doctoral candidate and study co-author with professor Chris Gobler.

The Tampa Tribune, 13 December 2009. Full article.

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