On ‘Earth Week,’ World is no longer our oyster (audio)

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we can add another species, one of widespread ecological and economic importance, to the list of the beleaguered.

From East Coast to West and around the world, global warming and its effects have descended upon shellfish reefs, particularly those formed by the Olympia oyster.

More than one-third of the world’s human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have entered the oceans, according to Brian Gaylord, a biological oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California at Davis.

“Similar to what happens in carbonated soda,” says Gaylord, “increasing carbon dioxide in seawater makes it more acidic.”

Even with small changes in acidity, seawater becomes corrosive to the shells of aquatic organisms.

That’s not good news for most marine life, especially for oysters.

Gaylord is investigating the consequences of this increasing ocean acidity on the growth of larval and juvenile Olympia oysters native to the U.S. West Coast.

“Such early life stages can be extremely sensitive to environmental stresses like ocean acidification,” says Gaylord.

Cheryl Dybas, National Science Foundation, 19 April 2010. Full article and audio slideshow.

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