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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Mass Shellfish Die-Offs in Canada: Is Ocean Acidification to Blame?

Posted On March 4, 2014 by

Photo: Barbara Kinney, Ocean Conservancy

News broke last week that a company called Island Scallops in British Columbia, Canada, had lost three years’ worth of business – 10 million scallops and $10 million. The CEO, Rob Saunders, identified ocean acidification as the culprit.

Now, there is rightly some attention to being paid to the mass shellfish die-offs in Canada. An oyster farm in the region has also come forward with tales of oyster deaths. The owner of the oyster farm was quoted in Canada’s Globe and Mail as saying, “It’s hard to say [what is causing these deaths] without having somebody there monitoring what’s going on.”

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The House Draft Fisheries Bill Doesn’t Add Up

Posted On February 27, 2014 by

Photo: Sara Thomas

In elementary school, we learned through basic math that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. As we grew up, math became more complicated with different variables and formulas, but we always knew that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. Fisheries math is not all that different.

Each year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use fishery math and science to determine how many fish can be removed from fisheries in a sustainable manner, and the number of fish that can be removed is called the annual catch limit (ACL). If species fall below a level that is sustainable, managers put in a rebuilding plan – a roadmap to rebuild the stock to a healthy level.

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Youngsters Need Energy to Grow

Posted On February 26, 2014 by

There’s a shift happening in the way scientists are thinking about how ocean acidification affects marine creatures. Originally, when researchers in the Southern Ocean watched the shells of tiny marine snails dissolve in high-carbon dioxide water, they suspected that similar animals with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons would most likely be harmed by ocean acidification. After all, this made intuitive sense: Ocean acidification means there is more carbon dioxide in the water, which lowers the water’s pH. All of this decreases the amount  of carbonate ions in the ocean—the chemical building blocks found in animals’ shells. Wouldn’t decreases in these building blocks rob animals of the very things they need to build their shells?

Ocean acidification biological research has looked at this “building blocks” hypothesis for a while. Many excellent studies have shown that time after time, decreases in seawater carbonate ion levels are associated with decreases in shell building by corals, plankton, oysters, and more. But that clear relationship doesn’t hold for crabs and lobsters, even though they too have calcium carbonate in their shells. And different shell formers respond to different degrees of change. What’s going on?

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Scallops Feel Acidification’s Impact; Lessons to Be Learned From Oyster Growers

Posted On February 26, 2014 by

Photo: Rita Leistner/Ocean Conservancy

The Internet is buzzing: A scallop farming business in British Columbia, Canada, has lost $10 million and 10 million scallops because of ocean acidification. Island Scallops’ CEO Rob Saunders’ despair came through crystal clear in his quotes: “I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” and “[Acidification] has really kicked the hell out of us.”

Saunders has been in the business for 35 years and has never seen anything like this. This is a shocking story for many – corrosive water because of carbon pollution single-handedly destroying a scallop business? It sounds eerily familiar to what Pacific Northwest hatchery owners in Washington and Oregon experienced in 2007 and 2008, when oyster larvae were dying by the billions. Whiskey Creek Hatchery and Taylor Shellfish Farms lost nearly 80 percent of their businesses due to increasingly acidic water.

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Scientists Discover How BP Oil Affects Tuna Hearts

Posted On February 24, 2014 by

Photo: NOAA

During the spring and summer of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was an unprecedented amount of toxic material discharged into the Gulf, and scientists have been researching its impacts on marine and coastal wildlife ever since. One of the species of concern is the imperiled Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was spawning at the time and location of the BP disaster.

In a new study, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that crude oil, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disrupts the cellular pathway that allows juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tuna heart cells to beat effectively. This causes a slowed heart rate, reduced ability of muscular heart tissue to contract, and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Crude oil is known to be toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. But until now, the details of how crude oil harmed fish hearts were unclear.

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Misguided Lawsuit Threatens the Chesapeake Bay’s Recovery

Posted On February 13, 2014 by

Terrapin Beach Park in Stevenson, Maryland

There was a time when the water of Chesapeake Bay would appear to boil, but it was actually millions of oysters ejecting filtered water. The bay’s waters, the old timers tell us, were crystal clear. But agricultural run-off and untreated wastewater flowed into the Chesapeake for years, fouling the water and making our nation’s largest estuary a shadow of its former self.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the cleanup efforts of six states within the bay’s watershed, including Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The efforts to limit pollution going into the bay included improving municipal wastewater treatment systems (known as point source pollution) and reducing agricultural runoff (known as nonpoint source pollution). Plans were in place, actions were being taken, and traction was being made.

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Interview: Dr. Paul Montagna on Deep-sea Impacts of the BP Oil Disaster

Posted On February 11, 2014 by

Dr. Paul Montagna

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

Most images related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster are of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico or washing up on its shores, but what has happened in the deep-sea environment? Dr. Paul Montagna of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi explores that question. In a recent publication in PLOS ONE, he estimated the size of the deep-sea “footprint” left behind by the BP Deepwater Horizon Macondo well blowout. He has documented severe impacts to bottom-dwelling animals over a 9-square-mile area (equivalent to 4,356 football fields) and moderate impacts within another 57 square miles, an area twice the size of Manhattan.

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