Increased acidity in ocean water a threat to shellfish

Rising acidification levels off the coast of Vancouver Island have local researchers and activist groups concerned about the sustainability of local shellfish.

The Pacific Ocean is seeing unprecedented levels of acidity, which in turn is affecting reefs, shellfish and other sea life.

Changes in shellfish larvae have already been noticed in the waters off Nanaimo with fewer larvae developing to adulthood.

The Deep Bay Field Station first noticed the dropping pH levels, which means that the acidity levels are rising, in the spring.

“This has scientists scrambling,” said Brian Kingzett, the manager of the station. “We were shocked to see how low the pH levels were.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada acknowledged the need for more research, stating they have started doing so already.

“We are well aware of the need for more research,” said Dr. Laura Brown from Pacific Biological Station.

She said the department was unable to speculate on the long term effects of rising acidification levels, but had been studying the levels since 1997.

The rising levels have already started claiming victims, with inland waters particularly at risk.

“Where there were large populations of blue mussels, they’re now not seeing them,” he said.

To combat the high acid levels, local shellfish hatcheries have already started trying to grow new strains of shellfish that will be more resistant to acid levels.

“It’s the most dramatic thing I’ve seen in 35 years,” said Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops in Qualicum Beach.

Island Scallops tested the water they were using to grow their shellfish and noticed carbon dioxide levels nearly double what they should be.

In response, they immediately started filtering the ocean water they used and looked at breeding stronger scallops and mussels.

While Island Scallops has survived, Saunders said he had spoken to other hatcheries that weren’t as successful.

The rising levels has environmental groups concerned over the trickle-down effects caused by shellfish dying off.

“What ends up happening is the effects will ripple down the entire marine food chain,” said Donna Berthiaume, with the Georgia Strait Alliance. “The pteropods are the main food of the salmon and orcas and without them it’s a problem.”

According to both the alliance and the Deep Bay Field Station the problem is the lack of public knowledge and research being done.

“It’s been happening for a long time but people are just starting to become aware of it,” she said. “It’s astounding to see how far it’s come to get here.”

Nick Wells, Nanaimo Daily News, 20 July 2012. Article.

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