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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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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UPDATE: The Ocean in a High CO2 World

Posted On June 25, 2013 by

polar bearsPresident Obama’s plan to address climate change is a step in the right direction on the long road toward making real progress in reducing carbon pollution. There is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we are already seeing the impacts. It’s urgent, and we must act now.

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change more than anywhere else, with air temperatures warming about twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Water temperatures are rising and seasonal sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace.

As we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it, becoming 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. This has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.

There is something we can do about it. The ocean should be at the center of our solutions to the rising threat of carbon pollution. You can learn more about Ocean Conservancy’s work on this issue in my blog, The Ocean in a High CO2 World:

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What Does More Carbon Pollution Mean for the Ocean?

Posted On April 16, 2013 by

oil pipeline in Texas

The path to healthy ocean does not lie in drilling and pipeline-building for this dirty fuel, but in exploring alternatives. Photo: Ray Bodden via Flickr

“Where do we start?” It’s a question that I’m asked every day in relation to the opportunities we have to put the ocean at the center of the most pressing issues of our time.

One of our readers, who is very concerned about increasing CO2 emissions, asked that question in a comment on my last blog, where I detailed how rising carbon pollution is the greatest risk to the ocean and the resources—food, water, air, energy—it provides to sustain us.

The first step we need to take is to find out more about the species, people and places that are already feeling the effects of increased carbon pollution. The ocean is absorbing more and more of our carbon emissions, and its waters are becoming more acidic as a result. Ocean acidity has already increased 30 percent in the past few decades, and we are starting to see real impacts on species that depend on calcium for their shells.

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The Ocean in a High CO2 World

Posted On March 25, 2013 by

Taylor Shellfish worker shucks oysters

Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.