Oyster Die Off Begins As Oceans Acidify

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A researcher at Oregon State checks the status of oyster larvae.
The problem with the beginning of the End Times is that they don’t look like the apocalyptic films that explode onto the movie screen by the dozens every summer. The collapse is taking place in small, hardly noticeable steps…at least for the time being. Honey bees doesn’t return to their hive one day. Where are the bats that used to flitter about in the twilight? What happened to the Tasmanian Devil?

In a new development that is far more ominous than the few headlines it receives, the oceans are growing inhospitable to the reproduction of oysters. The cause is an increase in acidity in water chemistry, driven by the rapid increase in CO2 content of the atmosphere*. The change in ocean chemistry creates a corrosive environment for young oysters because they are unable to grow shells. And then they die.

In the Pacific Northwest, where about 25% of US oyster product is located, the situation has been deteriorating since 2005, when the first crash took place. During that year, no young oysters survived in Willapa Bay at all.

Although the cause was not at first obvious, a study performed by Oregon State University in partnership with Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery showed that the change in ocean chemistry was the cause. While ocean acidity has been on the rise of a century due to the burning of fossil fuels, it is not the same in every location and it varies according to depth. The Pacific Northwest has been among the first to be hit, because the prevailing winds allow deeper, more acidic waters to push into the shallows where the oysters breed. This means that the conditions are going to be variable to some degree, while at the same time acidity will continue to climb until it affects the entire ocean.

The oyster companies have chosen different routes to survival. Whiskey Creek has been able to bring production back up slowly by constant monitoring of water chemistry, taking advantages of windows of opportunity. Goose Point Oyster Co., on the other hand, has begun relocating its operations to Hawaii. But there will be only so many places to run.

Unlike the vagaries of climate destabilization, which are complex and prone to twisting by those with an economic interest in doing so, CO2 levels and pH levels are easily measured and verified. As the acidification of the seas continues, oysters will not be the only marine life affected. All marine will be affected, along with the species who eat it.

For a global perspective on the effects of climate destabilization, visit the CatMap Climate Change Map

*In the past 100 years, the acidity of the ocean has increased about 30% overall.
**You would have missed the story unless you are a regular reader of the science journal Limnology and Oceanography.

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