Kelp mitigates ocean acidification, a key to the health and abundance of important shellfish

Stony Brook-led study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, reveals findings that combat climate change and apply to emerging oyster aquaculture methods 

Mike Doall and oyster farmer Paul McCormick with kelp grown on the Great Gun oyster farm. Photo provided by Professor Christopher Gobler

While kelp is known as a nutritious food item for sea creatures and humans alike, harvesting kelp may be a new way to help keep bivalves such as clams and oysters – a more common food source and marine industry staple – healthy and more abundant. A new study led by Christopher Gobler, PhD, and a team of scientists at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) shows that the presence of kelp significantly reduces ocean acidification, a result of climate change.

Published in Frontiers in Marine Science, the study also demonstrated that the deployment of kelp on an oyster farm nullifies ocean acidification and therefore protects bivalves against acidification. The process may also have additional ecosystem and aquaculture benefits, including the sequestration and extraction of carbon and nitrogen, and protection against harmful algae blooms.

For shellfish, one of the most serious climate change-related threats is ocean acidification. Carbon dioxide or CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere continue to rise, infiltrating oceans where it causes chemical reactions that lower pH and cause ocean acidification. For the past two decades, one of the most robust conclusions of ocean climate change research has been that increasing levels of CO2 in surface waters threaten shellfish that rely on higher pH waters to grow and survive. This threat is particularly acute in coastal zones where additional sources of acidity can further reduce pH and slow shell formation in shellfish, especially bivalves. And while many wild populations of bivalves have collapsed, a burgeoning wave of aquaculture in the U.S. and around the World has caused the global production of seafood via aquaculture to grow and now exceed wild capture.

Stony Brook University News, 25 May 2022. Press release.

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