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article imageAcidic ocean wider threat than previously thought in U.S.

By Karen Graham     Feb 24, 2015 in Environment
The increasing acidification of ocean waters is not only an environmental threat, but has become an economic threat, too, as the U.S. seafood industry grapples with yet another problem threatening the industry.
The effects of ocean acidification on larval oysters can be dramatic. In 2009, hatcheries in the Northwest U.S. were experiencing an 80 percent drop in production. Highly acidic ocean water turned out to be the problem, but while part of the blame could be placed on naturally occurring acidity of the water, the bigger blame was placed on human-caused "ocean acidification." Even so, the industry suffered a $110 million loss and put 3,200 jobs at risk.
According to scientists, the oceans have absorbed one-fourth to one-third of all man-made carbon emissions. As we continue to burn more coal, oil and natural gas, the acidification levels in the ocean will likely increase, threatening even more marine life. A new study released on Monday, Feb. 23 says that seafood industries in the Northeast and Gulf of Mexico are now at risk and will become the most vulnerable to ocean acidification in the next few decades.
The focus of the study was limited to coastal human communities, or "bioregions" in the United States, as well as shelled mollusk harvests, primarily oysters and clams. The Natural Resources Defense Council report was published in the journal Nature Climate Change and is the first to explore how local communities could be harmed by the increasing acidity of ocean waters.
According to NRDC  the long-term economic impacts of ocean acidification are expected to be most sev...
According to NRDC, the long-term economic impacts of ocean acidification are expected to be most severe in regions where waters are acidifying soonest (black) and where the residents rely most on local shellfish for their livelihood (red). Local factors such as agricultural pollution (green), naturally-occurring upwelling currents (purple) and poorly buffered rivers (blue) can amplify acidification locally.
While the science of ocean acidification is relatively new, according to the researchers, the scientific community has known for quite a while that colder ocean waters would be more susceptible to acidification, citing the Pacific Northwest, Maine and Alaska.
"Cold water absorbs more atmospheric CO2. It's like soda -- if you have a cold soda, it bubbles less, and the gas remains trapped in the liquid," Lisa Suatoni, one of the co-authors of the report, explained. "If you have a warm soda, all that CO2 bubbles out."
Warmer bioregions were included in the report because they face additional risks that can be associated with ocean acidification. These risks include local factors, such as pollution, a lack of economic diversity, local research into hardier mollusks, and little or no political action on environmental issues.
The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico were singled out because of their economic dependence on the Eastern oyster. In 2014, a story in the Huffington Post focused on the oyster industry in Louisiana. It had been thought that declining production was the fault of the BP oil spill, but further investigation of state and federal scientists showed there was no oil residues in the oyster beds,
Focusing on the Chesapeake Bay region on the East Coast, there are ongoing problems with fertilizer pollution from nearby agricultural operations, creating toxic algae blooms, not only depleting oxygen in parts of the bay and creating "dead zones," but also contributing to greater acidity in the waters of the bay.
The economies of Maryland and Virginia have lost over $3.0 billion in the last 30 years because of pollution, disease, poaching and habitat destruction, according to a recent report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
These situations are prime examples of a bioregion's multiple problems in regards to ocean acidification. Add the aquaculture operations along the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the threat of warming waters creeping northward along both coasts, and it is not hard to see the possibility of a collapse in the shellfish industry in the United States.
More about acidic ocean, US Coast, Oysters, seafood industry, wider threat
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