Ocean acidification is most urgent threat to marine conservation

The Taylor family has farmed shellfish in Puget Sound for over a century. The business now faces a challenge to its very existence that we didn’t even know about until five years ago: ocean acidification.

Seawater upwelling on Washington’s coast at times is so corrosive that the shells of oyster larvae dissolve faster than they can form. Recent research shows that the shifting chemistry of seawater impacts far more than oysters. Increasing acidity can deform, stunt, disorient and even kill a number of species throughout the marine food web, from tiny plankton to scallops, crabs and fish. Understanding how these corrosive waters impact the ocean’s ability to produce food is a pressing global security issue.

If we don’t begin addressing ocean acidification promptly, the future of shellfish farming and the entire seafood industry is at stake. On our current path, we are consigning our heirs to a world of increasing scarcity and conflict over ocean resources.

Are we up to it? The tools we need already exist. We can prevent many of acidification’s worst consequences by embracing proven and often profitable strategies to increase energy efficiency, manage fossil-fuel emissions and limit nutrient runoff. We can reduce harm to seafood supplies through scientific monitoring and research. These are all things we can do locally and make a difference.

In the open ocean, acidification results from emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) that mix into seawater. The oceans absorb about a quarter of the 70 million tons of CO2 we emit every day. This forms carbonic acid. The acid thins the ocean’s naturally rich soup of carbonate, the basic construction material used by many marine organisms to build shells, skeletons and reefs. Along our coasts, human activities amplify these changes by increasing runoff of soil, fertilizer and animal wastes, triggering hypoxia and acidification in many bays and estuaries where we grow shellfish.

Bill Dewey, The Seattle Times, 6 November 2011. Full article.


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