Ocean Acidification Threatens Chesapeake Oysters

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    oyster1This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

    Nature Climate Change published a stunning report this week about the economic repercussions of ocean acidification. The Chesapeake is a unique “hot zone.”

    From the National Resources Defense Fund, an explanation: “Ocean acidification is the result of oceans absorbing the growing amounts of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.  Acidifying waters make it more difficult for creatures with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, including mollusks, crabs, and corals, to grow their shells and survive. Mollusks are generally known to be particularly sensitive to ocean acidification and are also among the most lucrative and sustainable fisheries in the United States.” That last sentence is a real doozy, which is why I italicized it.

    Oysters on the half shell really will be.

    From the Washington Post: “The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has also noted that oyster-harvesting industries in Maryland and Virginia have lost $4 billion in the last three decades thanks to pollution and agricultural runoff, which can worsen acidification’s effects.”

    Did you know a single adult Chesapeake oyster can filter and clean up to 50 gallons of water per day? Here’s a time lapse. Oysters are the water filtration system of the Bay. Plus they’re gregarious and form reefs that stabilize the estuary’s notoriously silty floor. Oysters = good. Also: oysters = delicious.

    I’m old enough to remember the last gasp of the oyster fishery on the Chesapeake that involved skipjacks — shellfish harvesting under sail. My grandparents had a farm on the Eastern Shore. It seems so quaint to have thought — as I did — that the Bay and its abundance was forever.

    The situation is not without hope however. Scientists are raising strains of oysters that are more resistant to acid, and raising oysters in hatcheries (tour the University of Maryland’s at Horn Point) and environmental groups are working to reduce local nitrogen pollution.

    Here’s how you can help, too.

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    1. How nice to read an article written by someone intimately acquainted with the subject. Like this author, visiting Eastern Shore relatives was part of my Baltimore upbringing. In my case, an uncle by marriage was a commercial crabber. I can relate to her sense of the Chesapeake’s abundance, and share her hope for sustainability.

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