Archive for the 'Media coverage' Category

Recycled oyster shell project targets ocean acidification along Maine coast

Researchers hope the oyster shell study will prove to be a viable way to revive flagging softshell clam harvests.

Adam Morse, left, and Chad Coffin, both clammers from Freeport, install a net over one of the plots of recycled oyster shells in the Mill Creek Estuary on Friday. The shells were collected from nine Portland restaurants and are being installed in small plots to see they will change the chemistry of the mud overtime, making it less acidic and less harmful to shellfish. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Several hundred yards offshore, nestled in the mud of the Mill Creek Estuary, an experiment is underway to reduce coastal acidification that is decimating shellfish development and threatening Maine’s $15.7 million softshell clam harvest.

On Friday, researchers and volunteers laid out 120 plots of crushed oyster shells on the tidal flat behind the Hannaford Supermarket on Cottage Road. The study site is on the southern shore of Portland Harbor, near the mouth of the Fore River as it flows into Casco Bay.

The experiment will test whether oyster shells collected from Portland-area restaurants can be used to reduce the acidity of tidal flats and restore shellfish production, all while keeping diners’ discarded shells out of the waste stream.

Continue reading ‘Recycled oyster shell project targets ocean acidification along Maine coast’

Bill Posey, Brian Mast bring back National Estuaries and Acidification Research Act

At the end of last week, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., brought back his proposal fighting coastal acidification.

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The House passed Posey’s “National Estuaries and Acidification Research (NEARAct” on a voice vote in June 2019. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oreg. and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who lead the Congressional Estuary Caucus with Posey, were co-sponsors. Other backers in the House included U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla.

The bill “directs the Ocean Studies Board of National Academies to conduct a two-year study examining the science of ocean acidification and its impact on our estuaries” and will, Posey’s office insisted, “create a better understanding of coastal acidification so we can better manage and mitigate its effects on our nation’s estuaries and other natural treasures.” The bill funds the study with $1 million. But the bill did not garner any momentum in the U.S. Senate.

Continue reading ‘Bill Posey, Brian Mast bring back National Estuaries and Acidification Research Act’

Stressing out reef life earns marine researcher a nod from the PM

Australian scientists said they have discovered a detached coral reef on the Great Barrier Reef that exceeds even the height of iconic buildings like the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower.

In tanks across the world, marine researcher Christopher Cornwall’s​ team deliberately stressed coral and algae species, by slowly making the water more acidic. The work, recreating what’s happening in our oceans because of climate change, earned him the Prime Minister’s emerging scientist prize.

Reefs – from the famous coral ecosystems to forests of kelp – are facing an uncertain future, said the Victoria University research fellow. Human-made greenhouse gas emissions are affecting the oceans in two ways.

The additional carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed by the ocean, affecting the pH balance of the water, which is slowly becoming more acidic. Species that surround themselves with calcium carbonate skeletons struggle to maintain a stable internal environment. It’s this effect that Cornwall is mimicking in his tanks.

Continue reading ‘Stressing out reef life earns marine researcher a nod from the PM’

NOAA live! Alaska webinar 80 – a dive into daily life (text & video)

Come along for a virtual tour of the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s lab in Kodiak, Alaska! We’ll highlight a few of our daily operations, our crab research, our long-standing ocean acidification research projects and learn about our dive team operations!

Continue reading ‘NOAA live! Alaska webinar 80 – a dive into daily life (text & video)’

Effects of ocean acidification on Central Coast sea life (text & video)

MONTEREY, Calif. (KION) – Researchers along the California coast have been concerned about acidity levels in the water and what impacts it could have on local sea life.

Specifically, researchers have been looking at pH and acidity levels.

“One of the things is a lot of the monitoring that would’ve been going on without covid just didn’t happen,” says Steve Litvin with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Although field teams weren’t out as much, the amount of cold water coming to the bay is reassuring.

“You know that every spring we have this upwelling that happens, that’s the cold deep water that comes up because of the wind conditions,” says Litvin.

That brings nutrient rich water which helps with the local kelp forest and local fisheries like the Monterey Abalone Company.

“We haven’t noticed anything ocean acidification related affecting our abalone or anything like that,” says Andrew Kim with the Monterey Abaone Company.

Their farm is underneath the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and has been for the past three decades.
They rely heavily on the local kelp to feed and grow their abalone.
Researchers have found kelp also acts as buffer against acidity in the water and incrases dissolved oxygen, creating condition conducive to calcification.

“I don’t think these are things you can see in a small chunk of time,” says Kim.

Researchers at MBARI agree that adaptations may be happening already but only time will show the true affects of ocean acidification.

“You know how these marine species may be adapted, ya know what the limits of that adaptation may be,” says Litvin.

This is something that researchers are keeping an eye on.

Continue reading ‘Effects of ocean acidification on Central Coast sea life (text & video)’

Study focuses on response to ocean acidification

Oregon State University researcher Ana Spalding is part of a new federally supported project investigating how communities along the West Coast are adapting to ocean acidification, with the goal of determining what they need to be more resilient.

An Oregon State University researcher is part of a new federally supported project investigating how communities along the West Coast are adapting to ocean acidification, with the goal of determining what they need to be more resilient.

Ana K. Spalding, an assistant professor of marine and coastal policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, is leading a team looking into how shellfish industry participants in several towns along the Oregon and California coasts are responding to ocean acidification and where gaps in policy or resources have left them vulnerable.

The $1 million, three-year interdisciplinary project is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through its Ocean Acidification Program. At OSU, Spalding is working with Erika Wolters, assistant professor of public policy, and Master of Public Policy students Victoria Moreno, Emily Griffith and Ryan Hasert.

Continue reading ‘Study focuses on response to ocean acidification’

How to make an acid-proof oyster

Oyster farms face a fading future in acidifying oceans. But a Vancouver Island research program is trying to breed oysters that can resist the change

Gulls squawk as the normally quiet Deep Bay Marina bustles with the arrival of fishing boats assembling for an imminent commercial herring opening near Denman Island. A two-minute boat ride away from the harbour, Vancouver Island University (VIU) scientist Tim Green balances across a dock the size of a squash court decked with wet plywood slick as grease. He kneels down to haul a small black net full of juvenile Pacific oysters from the water, each one carefully numbered with a small tag. 

But the problems are even more fundamental than that: ocean acidification, sometimes considered climate change’s little-known cousin, presents a threat to the oysters’ ability to survive even past infancy.

Green is an internationally recognized expert on shellfish immunology. Several years ago, when VIU was looking for someone to head up an oyster genomics and breeding program, he jumped at the opportunity to help address an existential threat facing British Columbia’s shellfish sector worth $30 million annually in farmgate sales. Green is betting on the belief that the key to future-proofing oysters against the impacts of climate change is through breeding and selecting for oysters with traits that make them more resilient to rising ocean acidity and water temperatures.

A mollusk in the coalmine

A single axle delivery truck, loaded with fresh clams and oysters destined for Vancouver, pulls out of Fanny Bay Oysters and onto the Old Island Highway, before heading south. The midden of oyster shells piled deep outside the weathered and whitewashed Fanny Bay Oysters headquarters on the shores of Baynes Sound is a testament to longevity and more than three decades in the BC shellfish industry. 

Oysters, once settled, don’t move much. If the water gets too acidic, too warm, too nutrient-poor, or if a sudden deluge of mud smothers them, there’s not much the shellfish can do about it. The industry is much the same: unlike other fisheries, oyster growers are rooted in place. They’re accustomed to a degree of uncertainty, and when you can do little to control the growing environment, oyster mortality is an accepted cost of doing business. However, three years ago when Fanny Bay Oysters started experiencing unprecedented mortality rates, general manager Brian Yip knew something wasn’t right in the ocean.

“It’s the million-dollar question what the exact cause of increased mortality is, but it seems to be linked to water temperature and acidification,” Yip says as he looks out his office window at Baynes Sound, its busy surface like a checkerboard of oyster growing rafts.

Though many questions remain unanswered about the Pacific oyster’s ability to survive in a changing ocean environment, the link between ocean acidification and oyster health is now well understood. BC oyster growers acquire most of their seed, basically baby oysters, primarily from Chile, but also from hatcheries in the American Pacific Northwest like the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. In the late 2000s, workers at the Whiskey Creek facility, located just south of Tillamook Bay on the Oregon coast, were faced with a sudden and big problem—hundreds of thousands of dead oyster seed. At first, low oxygen and pathogenic bacteria were considered the most likely culprits, but when these potential causes were eliminated, attention shifted to changes in the pH levels of seawater. 

A decade earlier, the scientific community had begun ringing the alarm bell about ocean acidification, but at that time there was still much to learn about the impact on marine life. 

Prompted by this wave of unexplained hatchery die-offs, Oregon State University marine ecologist George Waldbusser focused his attention on acidification. In a 2012 peer-reviewed study, Waldbusser showed definitively how acidic water impacts the ability of larval oysters to build hard calcium carbonate shells at a critical time in their life cycle—the first 48 hours. Within the span of just two days, young oysters need to build their shells and begin feeding at a rate fast enough to survive. In the presence of acidic—or corrosive—seawater, the larvae expend too much energy creating their portable homes, leaving not enough left over for these tiny mollusks to swim and feed. In the American Pacific Northwest alone, ocean acidification was costing the oyster industry an estimated US$110 million. 

Waldbusser’s scientific sleuthing also spotlighted fascinating but also troubling changes in broad earth-scale systems. Historically, pH levels in the oceans have been kept relatively stable through natural processes; the rate at which the seas were able to absorb acidifying, or pH lowering, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was balanced by alkaline, continental erosion, and run-off. However, as anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean chemistry is being thrown off balance; carbon dioxide is now increasing at a rate that scientists estimate is between 100 and 1,000 times faster than the weathering processes that produce alkalinity can keep up with. That’s why the story of the young oyster is yet another case of a canary in the coalmine of climate change.

Once scientists proved that acidity in hatchery seawater was the smoking gun, the problem had a relatively easy fix: buffering the water to raise the pH and lower acidity. But a hatchery is a closed system that enables humans to tinker with water chemistry in a way that’s not possible in the open ocean. It might take tinkering with something even more fundamental than the water they breathe.

A genetic fix

Back on Baynes Sound, Tim Green and a research assistant measure the shells of the juvenile oysters then jot assiduous notes in a logbook. Afterwards, he returns the bivalves to the net bag, sews it shut, and lowers it into the water. Air bubbles drift and pop to the surface then this bag of tiny oyster disappears into the depths of the sound. According to Green, the scientific literature is so far mixed on whether acidification negatively affects oysters after leaving the security of the hatchery. In fact, there’s some speculation that artificially buffering the hatchery seawater in which young oysters are reared may even do harm, making them less able to withstand acidification in the wild and open ocean where they will grow to maturity in just two to three years. 

“This is definitely an area that requires further research,” Green says.

And in the absence of scientific certainty, breeding a tougher, more resilient oyster, able to withstand warmer and more acidic seas, may be the only hope for shellfish cultivation that as a commercial enterprise got its start on BC’s coast in the mid 1800s, but for First Nations is a practice with a long history going back thousands of years. 

There is reason for optimism. In Green’s native Australia, the shellfish industry has a good track record breeding Pacifc oysters, which at first focused on growth rate and shell shape. In 2010, with the arrival of oyster herpesvirus in Australian waters, the industry shifted focus and was able to successfully breed oysters resistant to this virulent disease that was killing between 60 to 100% of juvenile oysters. But breeding oysters for resilience to warming and increasingly acidic oceans is new territory.  

Jim Russell, executive director of the BC Shellfish Growers Association, spends a lot of time thinking about the perilous future of the Pacific oyster, which accounts for more than 60% of BC’s shellfish sales. 

If it was simply a matter of migrating the oyster growing industry further up the BC coast where the climate is cooler and the ocean may be less susceptible to mid-summer temperature spikes, then Fanny Bay Oysters, Mac’s Oysters, Nova Harvest, and the dozens of other smaller commercial shellfish growers would pull up stakes and head north. But it’s not that easy. 

Aside from its nutrient rich waters, Baynes Sound is valuable for its proximity to a highway, an important piece of infrastructure for a product like oysters, which, when fresh, are expensive to get to market. And even if it were possible to move the industry to colder waters, that still wouldn’t mitigate the threat of ocean acidification. 

Once a grower seeds a beach with young oysters or suspends them in trays below rafts, nature looks after the rest, as long as humans look after the marine ecosystem. But the very thing that makes oysters so enviably self sustaining is also what makes them acutely vulnerable in a world where the impacts of human-caused climate change are being tallied on the balance sheets of businesses like Fanny Bay Oysters.  

“We’re environment takers, not environment makers. So yes, we believe genomics should be the focus because we can’t control these other environmental factors,” Russell says. “Sixty per cent of our industry is Pacific oysters. If we lose that, we’ll be scrambling.”

Andrew Findlay, Capital Daily, 17 March 2021. Full article.

Opinion: California legislators need to take action to address climate crisis

Ocean acidification is only getting worse and with it, so is the quality of life for many organisms off the California coast. The state needs to take swift action to reverse this worrying trend. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor).

The climate crisis is as urgent of an issue as ever, and California’s lack of action isn’t helping.

Over the past century, ocean surface temperatures have risen by an average of 0.13 degrees Celsius each decade. This rise in temperature is a result of increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere dating back to the 1970s,and 93% of this excess heat has been absorbed by the ocean, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On top of this, ocean acidification, a process that occurs when atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into water, is also affecting oceans at an increasingly alarming rate.

Continue reading ‘Opinion: California legislators need to take action to address climate crisis’

Could seaweed be a salve to debate over salmon farming?

Seaweed is great at dealing with the waste from salmon farms and providing producers with another cash crop, says researcher Thierry Chopin. Photo by Steve Backman.

For well over a decade, scientists on Canada’s coasts have demonstrated how growing seaweed or shellfish alongside salmon farms can provide a host of benefits — economic and ecological.

Researcher Thierry Chopin has been pitching the idea of co-cultivating multiple species together, or Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), since the late 1990s.

The notion behind co-cultivation, or IMTA, is that extractive species like seaweed, mussels, or sea cucumbers can filter or flourish from the uneaten feed, waste, and byproducts from fish farms.

Continue reading ‘Could seaweed be a salve to debate over salmon farming?’

Lobster research explores ocean warming effects

ORONO — A team of researchers from the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay and the Maine Department of Marine Resources in West Boothbay Harbor recently published their research on the effects of ocean warming and acidification on gene expression in the earliest life stages of the American lobster.

The work was published in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution with collaborators from the University of Prince Edward Island and Dalhousie University in Canada.

The team’s experiments examined the gene regulatory response of post-larval lobsters to the separate and combined effects of warming and acidification anticipated by the end of the 21st century. They found that genes regulating a range of physiological functions, from those controlling shell formation to the immune response, are either up- or down-regulated. Importantly, they observed that the two stressors combined induced a greater gene regulatory response than either stressor alone.

The results from the study indicate that changes in gene expression of post-larval lobster may act as a mechanism to accommodate rapid changes in the ocean environment. Team leader Maura Niemisto noted that “there is still need for further study to determine how rapidly populations of the species may be able to adapt to changing conditions. To better understand how gene regulation in response to environmental changes functions within the species, we should look at subpopulations and multigenerational studies to determine the extent of species’ capacity to respond to altered environmental conditions.”

Continue reading ‘Lobster research explores ocean warming effects’

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