Ten years ago, I was finishing graduate school. I was becoming an expert on how carbon dioxide is stored in the world’s oceans, but – and this seems weird to me now – I hadn’t heard about ocean acidification. Hardly anyone had. Only a handful of scientists had started to realize that as the ocean sops up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean chemistry changes in ways that can hurt fish, shellfish, and corals.
Just five years later, concern about ocean acidification had grown dramatically, and thousands of people were involved. West Coast shellfish growers were trying to save their hatcheries from the effects of ocean acidification, while scientists were scrambling to offer information and solutions. Ocean Conservancy began working on this issue in 2012, helping bring affected business people, policy makers, and scientists together during the initial search for solutions in Washington State, whose shellfish hatcheries experienced dramatic die-offs of their oyster larvae.
Ah, Louisiana. Famous for seafood dishes including shrimp étouffée, oyster po’boys and blackened redfish. Although some of you reading may now be thinking of lunch, there are some great stories behind the recipes, and the efforts people make to secure your meal’s ingredients now and in the future.
One of those people is Dr. John Supan, the Louisiana Sea Grant Oyster Research Laboratory Director who oversees a new oyster hatchery on Grand Isle that provides the larvae, or “seed”, for shellfish farmers and oyster reef rehabilitation efforts. We recently asked him some questions about how this hatchery helps ensure coastal areas are resilient not only for Louisiana’s culinary history, but also for the regional ecosystem.
“Although each of the world’s countries would like to dispute this fact, we French know the truth: the best food in the world is made in France. The best food in France is made in Paris.” That is how “Ratatouille,” one of my favorite movies, begins. Now I don’t want to pick a fight over what city has the best food, but I think we can all agree that Paris has made a name for itself as a food destination and taste exporter. This December, Paris might become world-renowned for exporting something else that has a big impact on food: a global carbon pollution agreement.
You might have heard the news today that the Obama Administration released its final version of a rule called the Clean Power Plan. Years in the making, this rule from the Environmental Protection Agency aims to reduce emissions from power plants – the biggest emitters of carbon pollution – by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. We hear a lot about how carbon pollution causes our planet’s atmosphere to warm, and as a result, droughts, wildfires, and extreme weather events, are becoming more frequent, dangerous and costly to Americans and many others around the world. But what does carbon pollution mean for the ocean?
When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.
In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.
This blog post was written by Benoit Eudeline, the hatchery research manager at Taylor Shellfish Farms.
Here at the Taylor Shellfish Hatchery in Washington State, we are facing real threats to our business and our livelihood.
Ocean acidification, largely caused by carbon pollution, can damage shell-building animals, like oysters, clams and mussels. Given the changes we’re seeing in the ocean, it will be increasingly difficult for these organisms to build healthy shells, and will ultimately impact their ability to survive.
We are taking action here in Washington State, but we must do more – for everyone who relies on the ocean.
Over these past three months, my blog series has taken you around the world and into the lives of marine dependent communities at risk from ocean acidification. Hopefully this journey did for you what it did for me: showed how ocean acidification has the power to alter whole communities, and how these communities are in dire need of research, guidance and infrastructure to prepare for the challenges ahead.