Tales of Hope, Friendship, & Dissolving Shellfish

Last week, we shared some exciting new research about native Pacific oysters’ ability to withstand more acidic ocean waters.

In addition to cutting edge research that happening to better understand ocean acidification (OA) and its impacts, there are many people working hard on the ground to deal with these threats. Even Members of Congress have taken notice and are working hard to make sure federal, state, and local agencies have the resources and funds they need to address OA.

Our story begins in the Pacific Northwest. In 2007, shellfish farmers across Oregon and Washington suffered a mass die-off of young oysters, leaving scientists and farmers alike puzzled. Since that time, however, we’ve identified the culprit: ocean acidification.

oyster farmBecause the Pacific Northwest is one of the first regions to experience the consequences of ocean acidification, these states in particular have worked tirelessly to better understand and address it. Several programs across the region have brought experts together to study what’s going on and provide recommendations to environmental managers and policymakers.

For more information about these projects, check some of them out here, here, here, and here.

Similar to its Pacific Northwest counterparts, Maine is one of the first states on the East Coast experiencing the consequences of OA. As it began to rear its ugly head in the northeast, shellfish farmers began experiencing impacts similar to those of their West Coast colleagues. In response, legislators, scientists, and farmers came together to tackle the problem.

This is one of those stories.

Bill Mook, an oyster farmer who owns Mook Sea Farm in Maine, began observing mass die-offs of young oysters at his hatchery in the early 2000s. He described what he was seeing by saying, “We’d see the swimming larvae develop normally for a week or two, and then they’d just stop feeding. At first we couldn’t figure out what was happening.”

hanging_oyster_bags_new_england.jpgWhen an Oregon oyster farmer visited Bill’s farm in 2009, he instantly recognized the signs. He explained to his colleagues in Maine that the because the water was too acidic, larval oysters were having a hard time building their first shells. The changes in ocean chemistry were forcing these tiny oysters to spend more energy regulating their internal chemistry, leaving less energy for other biological processes like growth.

Check out last week’s blog post for more information!

Bill began testing the water entering his hatchery. He found the pH levels were way too acidic. Because he understands what is harming his larval oysters, he’s now able to treat the water coming into his hatchery to ensure proper pH levels are maintained and his oysters can continue to grow.

Bill Mook is worried, though. He fears what acidification means for wild shellfish. If young oysters, mussles, and clams are unable to grow into adults and reproduce, wild populations will decline.

And the State of Maine for the win! In response to the concerns of Bill and other shellfish farmers, the Maine state legislature established The Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification. This Commission, made up of various community members, was tasked with identifying impacts on fisheries and other industries and making management recommendations.

But what about the rest of the country?capital.jpg

As you can see, there is a lot of great work being done on the ground and at the state level to address and adapt to the acidifying waters in the Pacific Northwest and in the Northeast. And, what’s even better, is that it’s gaining momentum at the federal level with many Members of Congress raising awareness and securing funding for research.

For more information about a few of the bills that have been introduced recently, check out our guide to recent ocean acidification legislation!


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