Relatively small increases in ocean acidity significantly harm clams, bay scallops, and oysters, particularly in their crucial larval stage, according to a new study. Researchers at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, exposed shellfish to levels of acidity expected in Earth’s oceans later this century and next century, and found that modest increases in acidity led to a 50 percent decline in survival of clam and scallop larvae, reduced the size of the larvae, and caused the larvae to develop more slowly. Oyster larvae also grew more slowly, but their survival was not affected until ocean acidity reached levels expected next century. The world’s oceans absorb about half of the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide released annually by burning fossil fuels, and the increased carbon dioxide is rapidly making the oceans more acidic, inhibiting the ability of mollusks such as clams and scallops to make their calcium carbonate shells. The researchers said the detrimental impact of ocean acidity on shellfish larvae growth rates is particularly worrisome, as the larvae are free-swimming and exposed to predation. The group’s work is being published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.
This article originally appeared on Yale Environment 360.
Ocean acidification is not only a problem for shellfish in the distant future; ocean acidification is causing problems now. For example, there has been no oyster set in Willapa Bay in Washington State, USA for five years running. Willapa Bay has historically been a major oyster production area.
An oyster set is the stage in oyster reproduction in which the free swimming larvae attach to a rock or other solid surface and begin life as a sedentary oyster. Without oyster sets there will be no oysters.
The cause of the five year cessation of oyster reproduction in Willapa Bay is generally believed to be acid water welling up from the deep ocean. Acidification makes it difficult or impossible for oysters and their larvae to make shells.
Shellfish are probably the most environmentally friendly kind of farmed seafood. If we lose the ability to grow shellfish it will contribute to starvation and protein deficiency.