Stone crabs in trouble? Mote scientists studying impact of ocean acidification on habitat (text and video)

SARASOTA, Fla. — Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota are using grant money to study how pH levels in the water affect the area’s stone crab population.

Stone crabs are a renewable resource and a $30-million industry in the state of Florida.

The scientists are studying how stone crabs in habitats with fluctuating pH levels compare with crabs in habitats with more stable pH levels to see if either is more resistant to increased levels of acidity in the water.

“We have shown that there is a thirty percent reduction in hatching success and that the larvae don’t survive as well in low pH,” said Dr. Philip Gravinese, a post-doctoral Fellow at Mote. “We’re going to compare habitats. Low pH habitats that have large fluctuations and regular habitats that have different variability to figure out if they are able to acclimate.”

“If a certain habitat is giving the females an advantage to deal with these stressors, like low pH, we can potentially implement policies to protect those habitats,” Gravinese added. “If their hatching success is greater under these conditions and these habitats then that produces more larvae and more larvae could mean in, down the road, two years later, that you have more crabs on your dinner plate.”

While carbon in the atmosphere is known to be fueling ocean acidification all across the world, Mote scientists like Gravinese are more interested in looking at the short-term impacts of land-based runoff and organics that affect coastal pH.

“They’re part of south Florida’s culture. We’ve been celebrating stone crabs for years the fishery is starting to come around again, October 15th is the opening of the fishery and we’re going to be having seafood festivals and stone crab eating claw contests so, it’s really important to local economies, it’s a big boom to the local industry,” Gravinese said. “Projects like this are going to give us a glimpse into the future of what might happen for the population.

“The ultimate goal is to partner with our collaborators at Fish & Wildlife here to put the hatching success data that we accumulate from the project into spawning models which can project what the spawning population might look like down the road with these future changes.”

Phil Buck, 23 September 2019. Article and video.

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