New Report: Ocean Acidification Threatens Shellfish Industry

Feb 26, 2015

Rhode Island is among 15 states whose shellfish industry is at long-term economic risk from the effects of ocean acidification. That’s according to new study funded by the National Science Foundation.

Credit Ambar Espinoza / RIPR

Ocean acidification scientist Sarah Cooley said the research team chose to limit the scope of the study to shellfish, a species they feel confident will experience the negative effects of ocean acidification first. The science is most clear on how shellfish species are responding to ocean acidification, said Cooley.

The ocean is becoming more acidic as it absorbs increasing levels of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Acidic waters make it difficult for marine creatures to grow their shells and exoskeletons, and survive.

“Rhode Island showed up as highly vulnerable, primarily because of the heavy harvest of scallops, quahogs, and oysters,” said Cooley.

Cooley said Rhode Island is also vulnerable, because Narragansett Bay experiences the negative effects of excess nutrients and runoff, which worsens ocean acidification. She said these challenges present opportunities to create tailored responses to ocean acidification and other factors that amplify its effects, such as excess nutrients and runoff.

“One community cannot solve global carbon emissions, but they can take steps against all of the other processes while also working to reduce their own carbon dioxide contributions,” said Cooley.

State lawmakers recently introduced a resolution to create a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Rhode Island. The state has also set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent to 1990 levels by 2050.

Other at-risk states include Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, California, Oregon, and Washington.

The study was co-authored by scientists at the National Resources Defense Council, UC Davis, Ocean Conservancy, and Duke University, and other collaborators from nine additional institutions. 

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