The Blog Aquatic » oysters News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The World is Ready For the Our Ocean Conference, and the Conference is Ready For You Thu, 12 Jun 2014 13:53:53 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

On June 16-17th, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Department of State will bring together scientists, stakeholders and leaders from around the world for the Our Ocean Conference. This international event will focus on three pressing ocean issues: sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. I am honored to be speaking on the ocean acidification panel at this conference.

I will be sharing stories I gathered from my year-long Watson Fellowship, studying how ocean acidification might affect human communities around the world. Over that year, I saw just how far-reaching ocean acidification’s impacts could be. We already know, from our experience in the US, that it hurts shellfish growers and the communities that depend on them. But around the world, there are whole countries and communities that depend on threatened species, such as coral for tourism, and fish for food and livelihoods. The stories I heard convinced me that we need to raise awareness and take action against ocean acidification at the international level. Here are some of those stories:

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

Ocean acidification threatens shellfish, coral, and other marine species, and these resources can have tremendous impacts on human populations. Ko Jaob, an oyster farmer in Surat Thani, Thailand, home to Ban Don Bay and its famous oysters, told me, “If we lose the oysters of Ban Don Bay, we will lose one of the greatest things in the world.” These oysters are a source of pride and income for the region and, in the eyes of many, cannot be replaced.

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

In some places, entire islands are at risk. Teina Bishop, Minister of Marine Resources in the Cook Islands, told me, “Tourism is our industry, and the pillars of tourism are our environment and our culture. If the coral goes away, we lose tourism. If we lose tourism, we lose income, and people will leave.”

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

As we have learned from the Pacific Northwest, hatcheries provide shellfish growers with the opportunity to respond to changing ocean chemistry. But in most parts of the world, shellfish growers depend on ever-dwindling natural stocks. Pedro, a man I met in Paracas, in Peru, has been working in the sea for 50 years. He told me, “I have a dream that someday we will have a hatchery here.”

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

Peter, a cod fisherman from the island of Værøy, in northern Norway, can trace cod fishing in his family back to the middle ages. He told me, “If the fish are not coming here, because there is too much CO2 in the ocean, what do we live off of? Then we have to move from this island.” He called the world to action, saying, “The whole world has to know. Not only in this small place, but the whole world has to know what is happening.”

At this conference, the global community will come together to learn about ocean acidification and other marine issues, and to make commitments and strides towards halting these threats. These commitments to research and collaboration will help us save the oysters Ko Jaob loves so much, ensure the people of the Cook Islands can thrive at home, allow Pedro to see his dream come true, and most importantly, as Peter in Værøy told me, make sure the whole world knows this is happening.

This conference needs your voice to be successful, and there are many ways to get involved. Read about the conference, join the Thunderclap, and stream it live to watch and participate as we work together to protect #OurOcean2014.

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Mass Shellfish Die-Offs in Canada: Is Ocean Acidification to Blame? Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:15:10 +0000 Julia Roberson

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.”

Scientists and policy experts agree that acidification and its impacts on coastal seafood, can be hard to untangle. Coastal areas are dynamic areas; things are constantly changing.

As Ocean Conservancy’s ocean acidification scientist, Dr. Sarah Cooley says, “We know coastal zones are complicated and disturbed places where natural systems and human damage intertwine.”

Many scientists want to better understand what is happening at Saunders’ operation. The good news for Saunders is that there are people just to the south of his operation in Washington and Oregon who have lived through similar experiences; there are policy experts that have identified ways in which the two states can respond to a changing ocean in ways that protects and enhances their coastal businesses, and above all, there are people that are passionate about this issue that want to help and better understand it.

It is heartbreaking for Saunders and his employees, to face an uncertain future. This is why Ocean Conservancy is renewing its call to double federal funding for ocean acidification research and monitoring – Rob’s story won’t be the first, nor will it be the last. We know that other businesses and livelihoods will feel ocean acidification’s impacts. But the good news is that with a smart investment now – $15 million dollars – the returns are huge. Monitoring already helped bring a $272 million oyster industry back from the brink. Members of Congress have an opportunity this spring to choose our long-term coastal communities’ health as they decide on their budget numbers for the coming fiscal year.  As Saunders said, “If we don’t figure it out, then we don’t have an industry.”

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A Season of Hope for Progress on Ocean Acidification Thu, 05 Sep 2013 15:15:17 +0000 Julia Roberson Harvesting oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, California

Photo: Kathleen Hennessy / Ocean Conservancy

Fall is upon us, and with it comes a new season, new beginnings and new opportunities. The saying “hope springs eternal” evokes an entirely different season, but this autumn I’m feeling particularly excited and optimistic—and it has nothing to do with football. Great things are happening on ocean acidification, and this is an issue that I’m always happy to have something good to talk about.

Just last week, California announced a groundbreaking science panel comprised of world-class scientists from California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Long a leader on environmental issues, California is taking a page from Washington state’s excellent playbook in tackling ocean acidification at the state and local level.

State efforts to address this issue are essential. Ocean acidification is a global ocean health problem, caused by our increasing carbon emissions from factories, cars and power plants being absorbed by the ocean—but its impacts are local. Ocean acidification is putting American jobs and livelihoods at risk.

Shellfish growers and fishermen on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts are concerned as to what this means for them. West Coast shellfish growers have already experienced losses of up to 80 percent due to increasingly corrosive water.

Washington and Oregon growers were the first to sound the alarm, and because of them and their efforts to inform their elected officials about the problems they were facing, decision-makers were able to respond. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) earmarked $500,000 for the Pacific Northwest growers, allowing them to put in place monitoring systems that effectively saved their businesses.

That approach—having a conversation with officials and decision-makers about what ocean acidification means to coastal businesses—is why Ocean Conservancy is hosting an event in Sacramento today. We’re bringing together shellfish growers and California legislative members to discuss common ground and ways to work together as California’s panel begins its critical work on acidification.

The power of partnerships cannot be underestimated as we as a community move forward to tackle acidification.

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Harbor Heroes: Little Oysters in the Big Apple Thu, 01 Aug 2013 17:45:35 +0000 Guest Blogger

This post was written by Ocean Conservancy intern Jaclyn Yeary.

After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last October, I read an op-ed by Paul Greenberg in the New York Times titled “An Oyster in the Storm” that inspired me. In his piece, he described how oysters can be used to protect the shorelines of our coastal cities while improving the water quality of America’s largest metropolis. The solution to two major issues seemed suddenly so obvious. I needed to learn more.

So I partnered with a friend to produce a short documentary titled “Harbor Heroes” about the importance of oysters to New York City. We interviewed an amazing group of individuals including students from the aquaculture program at the New York Harbor School, Philippe Cousteau and Paul Greenberg himself.

How do oysters help water quality?

The idea behind restoring New York’s oysters is this: oysters grow on top of one another, forming nurseries for baby fish and creating a base structure for reefs. Reefs act as natural surge protectors and reduce the size of waves during big storms. Like other mollusks, oysters are filter-feeders, which means they clean the water column as they eat. If the water quality improves enough, sea grass could grow and create a root network that would prevent the erosion of the shoreline.

The history of the New York City half shell

One of my favorite aspects of the solution presented by Greenberg is that oysters are an important part of New York’s history. Mark Kurlansky’s book, “The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell,” outlines the history of New York City through the growth of the oyster industry.

At one time, half the world’s oysters were found in New York. Liberty Island and Ellis Island were once called “Little” and “Big Oyster Island,” respectively. But as the city grew, more and more people began harvesting them. And with the Industrial Revolution, more and more chemicals were being dumped into the harbor. People began getting sick from eating contaminated shellfish, so they stopped growing oysters. The few that remained died out until the population completely disappeared.

Since the introduction of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the waters surrounding New York have improved. Today, they are clean enough to support oysters again, though it will be a while before anyone actually wants to eat them. Various groups, including the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School have begun planting oysters in the Hudson.

Where are we today?

The plan isn’t perfect, and it isn’t without challenges. Some officials worry poachers will eat oysters from the contaminated water and cause a public health outbreak. Additionally, ocean acidification is an ever-growing threat to shellfish and corals. As the ocean absorbs more carbon, they become more acidic. This is problematic for oysters because the changing chemistry of the ocean means shell-building animals have trouble building the shells necessary for their survival.

But some states are taking action. For instance, Washington has turned oyster beds around the state into ocean acidification monitoring stations. Scientists can collect data on the water’s pH levels around the state and record their effects on the shellfish industry.

In New York City, if this multi-faceted solution is implemented as part of a larger plan to protect and restore New York’s waters, oysters have the potential to positively impact a variety of sectors including the environment, education and local economy.


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UPDATE: The Ocean in a High CO2 World Tue, 25 Jun 2013 17:29:06 +0000 Andreas Merkl 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:

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.

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Video: In Washington State Ocean Acidification is about People Fri, 26 Apr 2013 14:37:20 +0000 Julia Roberson

“I am hopeful.” “There are actions we can take.” “Republicans and Democrats are working together.”

Not phrases you often hear these days, especially with some of the more challenging issues we face as a society.  But this type of action and partnership is exactly what is taking place right now in Washington state to tackle ocean acidification.  Washington’s people and businesses have been hit hard by this invisible problem – caused by increasing carbon pollution from land being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. Many animals are struggling to build their shells in increasingly acidic water – and local pollutants in coastal areas make the problem worse.  Oyster growers have experienced massive die-offs, and this is an industry that brings in $272 million to Washington annually – and directly employs around 3,200 people.  So the state and its people are fighting back.  Watch the video and learn how.  


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What Does More Carbon Pollution Mean for the Ocean? Tue, 16 Apr 2013 21:36:29 +0000 Andreas Merkl 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.

For instance, the University of North Carolina’s Aquarium Research Center is finding that “higher levels of carbon in the ocean are causing oysters to grow slower, and their predators—such as blue crabs—to grow faster,” as reported last week by the Washington Post. Essentially, this means that crabs will decimate oysters in an effort to build up their shells, which, of course, can’t go on for very long.

Scientists aren’t the only ones who are witnessing these worrisome changes in the ocean’s chemistry. Ask oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest about ocean acidification, and they’ll say this has become an existential issue for them. Oystermen in Washington state are taking action to protect their waters so the oysters survive, given that increased carbon emissions are wreaking havoc on their businesses.

As this trend continues, additional species, some of them essential to the ocean food chain, will suffer. The risk this poses to those who depend on the ocean for food and for livelihoods is enormous.

The second step we need to take is to look at the big picture and think long term in the management of our energy resources. There are about 2 trillion tons of carbon-based fuels—oil, coal, gas—in the ground globally. Of that, we can only burn about half if we want to keep climate change and ocean acidification to a manageable level. Since we’ve already burned 500 billion tons since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have another 500 billion left to go.

Considering that, it’s no surprise that there’s a heated debate about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Those sands hold the second largest petroleum reserve on earth; they contain a total of more than 1.63 trillion barrels of oil, of which about 170 billion barrels can be profitably refined at today’s energy prices.

These are stunning numbers made even more worrisome because this is dirty, carbon-rich fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that burning oil from the Alberta tar sands, compared to cleaner natural gas, would add an extra 600 million to 1.15 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere over time.

Increased development of these Alberta oil deposits is dependent on the 830,000 barrels-per-day Keystone XL pipeline to be brought to market. If approved, the pipeline will run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Port Arthur, Texas, crossing six American states and multiple aquifers that provide drinking water to millions of people.

One-third of all carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean, so adding a billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere means we’ll dramatically speed up the rate of acidification in the ocean, threatening lives and livelihoods. It’s a backward step when we should be doing exactly the opposite: lowering the trajectory for acidification, finding ways to reduce the need to dig up and burn fossil fuels, and making the oceans count.

The Obama administration is considering this proposal right now, and there are a few days left in the public comment period. If you want to let the Obama administration know about your concerns, a good place to start is by writing to the State Department. Let them know that you want them to include the ocean and the people who depend on it—1 in 6 jobs in the United States is marine-related—in the evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

It’s hard to imagine how a case can be made that these kinds of carbon numbers will have negligible effects. Let the Obama administration know that the path for a healthy future for us and for the planet does not lie in drilling and pipeline-building for this dirty fuel, but in exploring alternatives.

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