by Youth Ocean Advocate Elan M.
The shellfish industry has been an important aspect of Northwest food and culture for years. But climate change from the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, has led to ocean acidification. Because the oceans absorb a huge amount of carbon dioxide, the carbon forms carbonic acid, increasing the acidity of the oceans. Many marine species need carbonate to build their skeletons and shells – especially shellfish – but the acidifying ocean decreases the amount of carbonate available for shellfish and other species to survive.
Washington’s shellfish industry is a $270 million a year business that supports 3200 jobs, but many shellfish farms are struggling due to ocean acidification. Baby oysters were killed by the natural waters that was supposed to support them – they were unable to build their shells. In one case, the Goose Point Oyster Company took out loans and spent $1 million dollars to move their production away due to the acidic seas of the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, their case was not uncommon. Oysters are dying off by the billions along the Northwest coast since 2005 and are still struggling to survive.
Many concerned shellfish businessmen testified before Congress, but substantial change in legislation to decrease the production of greenhouse gases has not happened. But in Washington State, we can support legislation that tackled climate change. Climate change is happening now. The changing chemistry of the ocean has many more effects we cannot predict – this level of ocean acidification was not expected for 50-100 years – but we can safely guess that the entire marine ecosystem will change.