Ocean acidity levels could cause shellfish losses

A new study shows changes in ocean chemistry resulting from increased carbon dioxide emissions from human activity could cause U.S. shellfish revenues to drop significantly in the next 50 years.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), shows that intensive burning of fossil fuels and deforestation over the last two centuries have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by nearly 40 percent. The oceans have absorbed about one-third of all human-generated carbon emissions, and the buildup of the compound in the ocean is pushing surface waters toward more acidic conditions.

This creates a corrosive environment for marine organisms such as corals, marine plankton and shellfish that build carbonate shells or skeletons. Mollusks, including mussels and oysters, are particularly sensitive to these changes.

The study assumes that U.S. mollusk harvests  would drop 10 to 25 percent in 50 years due to increasing ocean acidification, decreasing mollusk sales by USD 75 million (EUR 53.7 million) to USD 187 million (EUR 133.8 million) annually.

Published in the June issue of Environmental Research Letters, WHOI scientists calculated the possible economic effects of ocean acidification over the next 50 years using atmospheric CO2 trajectories from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and laboratory studies of acidification’s effects on shell-forming marine organisms.

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