Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Oysters and Ocean Acidification

As the world's oceans become increasingly out-of-balance, more and more ecosystems and species are being impacted.

Today, the species of the day is the oyster. A recent National Science Foundation sponsored study looked at ocean acidification on the formation of oyster shells.

"The failure of oyster seed production in Northwest Pacific coastal waters is one of the most graphic examples of ocean acidification effects on important commercial shellfish," said Dave Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences.

It turns out that oyster larvae shell formation is in direct competition with the development of the feeding organs. The young oysters must use the energy from the egg to develop both. Since high carbon dioxide levels slow shell formation, there is a survival sprint for the shell to form (in the first 2 days of life) before the larvae runs out of stored energy in the egg. This becomes a losing race as ocean carbon dioxide levels get higher and higher.

Fortunately, ocean hatcheries such as the Whiskey Creek Hatchery and Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington state have started "buffering" the water for larvae in order to balance acidity. This allows oyster larvae a more natural start. 

So the next time you talk oysters with friends, you'll have the latest scoop. Balanced is better.

Go science!

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