‘One morning we came in and everything was dead’: Climate change and Oregon oysters

 

By Travis Knudsen Wednesday, March 1st 2017, KVAL.com
KVAL oyster pic Whiskey CreekTILLAMOOK, Ore. – The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is quietly tucked away off the Netarts Bay in Tillamook.

As the state’s only shellfish hatchery, it’s a large part of the oyster industry in the region.

Alan Barton is the Production Manager at Whiskey Creek.

He’s worked there for the past decade and says they play a big part bringing shellfish from ocean to plate.

“We probably produce about a third of all oyster larvae on the West Coast,” says Barton.

In 2007 and 2008, the whole operation was nearly shut down.

Something changed in the waters of Netarts Bay, which Whiskey Creek uses to spawn oysters.

Their output was reduced by nearly 75 percent each year.

A hatchery out of business would have had a substantial impact on the oyster industry.

The Washington Shellfish Initiative estimated that shellfish growers employ, directly and indirectly, more than 3,200 people across the Pacific Northwest with an economic impact around $270 million.

“In these rural areas along the coastline, 3,000 jobs are pretty important,” says Barton. “These are just blue collar guys.”

Initially, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery staff believed their mass die-offs were caused by biological problems, like foreign bacteria – or the wrong type of algae used for food.

“I remember one morning, we came in and everything was dead, all of it,” says Barton.

“It was our worst day, but also our best day. Because it’s when we realized the problem might be with the water from the bay.”

That is when the hatchery turned to Oregon State University for help.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery believed “ocean acidification,” a byproduct of climate change, was to blame.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) define ocean acidification, or “OA” for short as, “a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.”

In essence, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the more it will sink into the ocean.

Once enough of it gets into the water, it’s chemical makeup changes.

That can have a wide variety of effects on local animals and the ecosystem they live in.

George Waldbusser, Associate Professor at OSU, says ocean acidification is undoubtedly connected to climate change.

“By burning fossil fuels, we’ve increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 30 percent,” he says. “That’s lowered the pH of the ocean — or the acidity of the ocean — by about 30 percent, which shifts the saturation state and makes it harder for organisms to make shells.”

The drop in acid in water is troubling for shellfish.

During the first two weeks of an oyster’s life they are especially sensitive to the level of oxygen and acid in the water.

In high acid events, oyster’s shells deform – and often times they die.

Waldbusser believes conditions will only get harder, not easier on shellfish.

“We know the chemistry will change and these extreme events will get worse and worse. And so periods of time that are easy or good to grow oysters will diminish in time for the hatchery,” he says.

Fortunately, OSU was able to help the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery.

Burke Hales, a professor at OSU, created a way to measure the chemistry of the water used to spawn shellfish.

That allows the hatchery to treat the water and provide a successful growing environment for their oysters.

“With that knowledge,” Hales says, “the Whiskey Creek folks are able to change their operations: the timing of their water pumping, how they condition the water. Now they’re back to almost 100 percent of their pre-crash productivity.”

But Hales believes the current method of overcoming ocean acidification is not a long-term solution.

“Netarts Bay has always had some good times; it’s always had some bad times. But the frequency of the good times is less and the frequency of the bad times is greater. And the bad times are a little bit worse than they used to be,” says Hales.

To combat the problem for the long term researchers at OSU point to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere which causes ocean acidification.

“We have to recognize that fossil fuel emissions are a cause of climate change and ocean acidification. We also have to recognize that we’ve relied on them for a long time and we have to find reasonable transition plans to move away from fossil fuels and into alternative energy,” says Waldbusser.

For Barton at the Whiskey Creeks Shellfish Hatchery, he’s thankful they’ve found a way to overcome the effect the effect carbon dioxide has had on the ocean.

“If we had not figured out what ocean acidification was doing to this hatchery we would for sure be out of business,” he says.

However, he is not confident their current techniques for treating the water will sustain them forever.

“The short term prospects are pretty good. But within the next couple of decades we’re going to cross a line I don’t think we’re going to be able to come back from,” he says. “A lot of people have the luxury of being skeptics about climate change and ocean acidification. But we don’t have that choice. If we don’t change the chemistry of the water going into our tanks, we’ll be out of business. It’s that simple for us.”

Originally published here

Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas

The New York Times, October 15th, 2015,

Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge,

nytimes oa picare absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world’s seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Currently, that’s a worldwide average of 15 pounds per person a week, enough to fill a coal train long enough to encircle the equator 13 times every year.

We can’t see this massive amount of carbon dioxide that’s going into the ocean, but it dissolves in seawater as carbonic acid, changing the water’s chemistry at a rate faster than seen for millions of years. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow, reproduce and build their shells and skeletons.

About 10 years ago, ocean acidification nearly collapsed the annual $117 million West Coast shellfish industry, which supports more than 3,000 jobs. Ocean currents pushed acidified water into coastal areas, making it difficult for baby oysters to use their limited energy to build protective shells. In effect, the crop was nearly destroyed.

Human health, too, is a major concern. In the laboratory, many harmful algal species produce more toxins and bloom faster in acidified waters. A similar response in the wild could harm people eating contaminated shellfish and sicken, even kill, fish and marine mammals such as sea lions.

Increasing acidity is hitting our waters along with other stressors. The ocean is warming; in many places the oxygen critical to marine life is decreasing; pollution from plastics and other materials is pervasive; and in general we overexploit the resources of the ocean. Each stressor is a problem, but all of them affecting the oceans at one time is cause for great concern. For both the developing and developed world, the implications for food security, economies at all levels, and vital goods and services are immense.

This year, the first nationwide study showing the vulnerability of the $1 billion U.S. shellfish industry to ocean acidification revealed a considerable list of at-risk areas. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, these areas include Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and areas off Maine and Massachusetts. Already at risk are Alaska’s fisheries, which account for nearly 60 percent of the United States commercial fish catch and support more than 100,000 jobs.

Ocean acidification is weakening coral structures in the Caribbean and in cold-water coral reefs found in the deep waters off Scotland and Norway. In the past three decades, the number of living corals covering the Great Barrier Reef has been cut in half, reducing critical habitat for fish and the resilience of the entire reef system. Dramatic change is also apparent in the Arctic, where the frigid waters can hold so much carbon dioxide that nearby shelled creatures can dissolve in the corrosive conditions, affecting food sources for indigenous people, fish, birds and marine mammals. Clear pictures of the magnitude of changes in such remote ocean regions are sparse. To better understand these and other hotspots, more regions must be studied.

Read more here

New England Takes on Ocean Pollution State By State

By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, March 30, 2015

Portland, Maine — A group of state legislators in New England want to form a multi-state pact to counter increasing ocean acidity along the East Coast, a problem they believe will endanger multi-million dollar fishing industries if left unchecked.

The legislators’ effort faces numerous hurdles: They are in the early stages of fostering cooperation between many layers of government, hope to push for potentially expensive research and mitigation projects, and want to use state laws to tackle a problem scientists say is the product of global environmental trends.

But the legislators believe they can gain a bigger voice at the federal and international levels by banding together, said Mick Devin, a Maine representative who has advocated for ocean research in his home state. The states can also push for research to determine the impact that local factors such as nutrient loading and fertilizer runoff have on ocean acidification and advocate for new controls, he said.

“We don’t have a magic bullet to reverse the effects of ocean acidification and stop the world from pumping out so much carbon dioxide,” Devin said. “But there are things we can do locally.”

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says the growing acidity of worldwide oceans is tied to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and they attribute the growth to fossil fuel burning and land use changes. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased from 280 parts per million to over 394 parts per million over the past 250 years, according to NOAA.

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, and when it mixes with seawater it reduces the availability of carbonate ions, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said. Those ions are critical for marine life such as shellfish, coral and plankton to grow their shells.

The changing ocean chemistry can have “potentially devastating ramifications for all ocean life,” including key commercial species, according to NOAA.

The New England states are following a model set by Maine, which commissioned a panel to spend months studying scientific research about ocean acidification and its potential impacts on coastal industries. Legislators in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are working on bills to create similar panels. A similar bill was shot down in committee in the New Hampshire legislature but will likely be back in 2016, said Rep. David Borden, who sponsored the bill.

Read more here

Study Committee Calls for Maine to Act on Ocean Acidification

Portland Press Herald, Dec 2nd, 2014 By Kevin Miller

A report to legislators says more research and local efforts are needed to deal with the threat to shellfish, including lobsters and clams.

AUGUSTA — Maine should increase research and monitoring into how rising acidity levels in oceans could harm the state’s valuable commercial fisheries while taking additional steps to reduce local pollution that can affect water chemistry.

Those are two major recommendations of a state commission charged with assessing the potential effects of ocean acidification on lobster, clams and other shellfish. The Legislature created the commission this year in response to concerns that, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen, the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because oceans absorb the gas.

Researchers are concerned that organisms that form shells – everything from Maine’s iconic lobster to shrimp and the tiny plankton that are key links in the food chain – could find it more difficult to produce calcium carbonate for shells in more acidic seawater. They worry that the acidification could intensify as carbon levels rise and the climate warms.

Although research on Maine-specific species is limited, the commission of scientists, fishermen, lawmakers and LePage administration officials said the findings are “already compelling” enough to warrant action at the state and local level.

“While scientific research on the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and individual organisms is still in its infancy, Maine’s coastal communities need not wait for a global solution to address a locally exacerbated problem that is compromising their marine environment,” according to an unofficial version of the report unanimously endorsed by commission members Monday.

The panel’s report will be presented to the Legislature after Monday’s final edits are incorporated. Those recommendations include:

Work with the federal government, fishermen, environmental groups and trained citizens to actively monitor acidity changes in the water or sediments, and organisms’ response to those changes.

 Conduct more research across various species and age groups to get a better sense of how acidification is affecting the ecosystem.

 Identify ways to further reduce local and regional emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels – and to reduce runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that can contribute to acidification.

 Reduce the impact of acidification through natural methods, such as increasing the amount of photosynthesizing marine vegetation like eelgrass and kelp, promoting production of filter-feeding shellfish operations, and spreading pulverized shells in mudflats with high acidity.

 Create an ongoing ocean acidification council to monitor the situation, recommend additional steps and educate the public. This recommendation is the only concrete legislative proposal contained within the report.

Read more here

How to Battle Ocean Acidification

June 16th, By John Upton, Pacific Standard (psmag.com)

It’s a fearsome problem. But we’re not just watching helplessly.

Shellfish are dying by the boatload, their tiny homes burned from their flesh by acid. Billions of farmed specimens have already succumbed to the problem, which is caused when carbon dioxide dissolves and reacts with water, producing carbonic acid.

When ocean life starts to resemble battery gizzards, how can humans possibly respond?

Immediately curbing the global fossil fuel appetite and allowing carbon dioxide-drinking forests to regrow would be obvious steps. But they wouldn’t be enough. Oceanic pH levels are already 0.1 lower on average than before the Industrial Revolution, and they will continue to decline as our carbon dioxide pollution lingersand balloons.

In a recent BioScience paper, researchers from coastal American states summarized what we know about ocean acidification, and described some possible remedies.

Chart: Bioscience

Chart: Bioscience

As John Kerry kicks off two days of ocean acidification workshops, here’s our summary of the scientists’ overview:

WHAT WE KNOW

  • Acid rain can affect ocean pH, but only fleetingly, especially when compared with the effects of carbon dioxide pollution.
  • Studies of naturally acidified waters, like those near CO2 vents, suggest that acidification will depress species diversity; algae will continue to take over.
  • Farm runoff and fossil fuel pollution can worsen the problem in coastal areas. The nitrogen-rich pollution fertilizes algae. That initially reduces CO2 levels, but the plankton is eaten after it dies by CO2-exhaling bacteria. This type of pollution appears to be worsening the acidification of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Strong upwelling, in which winds churn over the ocean and bring nutrients and dissolved carbon dioxide up from the depths, exacerbate local acidity levels in some regions. In the upwell-affected Pacific Northwest, climate change appears to be leading to stronger upwelling.
  • Shellfish are “highly vulnerable” to ocean acidification. Some marine plants may benefit. Fish could suffer from neurological changes that affect their behavior. Coral reefs are also being damaged.
  • Declining mollusk farm production could cost the world more than $100 billion by 2100.
  • Marine plants can help buffer rising acidity. Floridian seagrass meadows appear to be protecting nearby coral.

WHAT’S BEING DONE

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created an ocean acidification program in 2012. It’s monitoring impacts, coordinating education programs, and developing adaptation strategies.
  • American experts are talking less these days about ocean acidification as a universal problem, and becoming more focused on local and regional solutions.
  • Alaska, Maine, Washington, California, and Oregon have initiated studies and working groups.

WHAT MORE COULD BE DONE

  • The EPA could enforce the Clean Water Act to protect waterways from pollution that causes acidification.
  • Other coastal states could model new working groups on the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel, which helped form the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.
  • Incorporate ocean acidification threats into states’ coastal zone management plans.
  • Expand the network of monitors that measure acidity levels, providing researchers and shellfish farmers with real-time and long-term pH data.
  • Expand marine protections to reduce overfishing and improve biodiversity, which can allow wildlife to evolve natural defenses.

Source: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/nature-and-technology/how-battle-ocean-acidification-83489/

One of the Smartest Investments We Can Make

Ensia.com. By Jane Lubchenco and Mark Tercek, April 14th, 2014

For centuries, coastal wetlands were considered worthless. It’s time to acknowledge the environmental and economic value of restoring these ecosystems.

For the past 25 years, every U.S. president beginning with George H. W. Bush has upheld a straightforward, three-word policy for protecting the nation’s sensitive and valuable wetlands: No Net Loss. And for a quarter of a century, we have failed in this country to achieve even that simple goal along our coasts.

According to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States is losing coastal wetlands at the staggering rate of 80,000 acres per year. That means on average the equivalent of seven American football fields of these ecosystems disappear into the ocean every hour of every day. On top of that, we’re also losing vast expanses of sea-grass beds, oyster reefs and other coastal habitats that lie below the surface of coastal bays.


Rising sea levels make coastal wetlands increasingly important as a buffer from erosion. Under the right circumstances, wetlands are even capable of building up coastal lands.


This isn’t just an environmental tragedy; it’s also an economic one. Coastal wetlands and other coastal habitats provide buffers against storm surges, filter pollution, sequester carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change, and serve as nurseries to help replenish depleted fish, crab and shrimp populations. The result is reduced flooding, healthier waterways, and increased fishing and recreational opportunities. To reap these benefits, we must reverse the trend of coastal habitat loss and degradation by protecting remaining habitats and aggressively investing in coastal restoration.

The good news is that such investments can pay off handsomely. To determine the extent of the economic contributions of these fragile and fading ecosystems, the Center for American Progress and Oxfam America analyzed three of the 50 coastal restoration projects NOAA carried out with funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The results were very positive. All three sites — in San Francisco Bay; Mobile Bay, Ala.; and the Seaside Bays of Virginia’s Atlantic coast — showed strong average returns on the dollars invested.

Only part of this benefit came from construction jobs. Real, long-term benefits also accrued to coastal residents and industries in the form of increased property values and recreational opportunities, healthier fisheries, and better protection against inundation. Rising sea levels make coastal wetlands increasingly important as a buffer from erosion. Under the right circumstances, wetlands are even capable of building up coastal lands because they trap sediment coming downstream from rivers, creating new land where additional marsh vegetation can grow.

Read more here

Nervous Nemo: Ocean Acidification Could Make Fish Anxious

By Douglas Maine, December 6th, 2013  Livescience.com

Ocean acidification threatens to make fish, like this juvenile rockfish, more anxious.

Ocean acidification threatens to make fish, like this juvenile rockfish, more anxious.
Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ocean acidification, which is caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere being absorbed into the sea, has made many worry because of the problems it will likely create, such as a decline in shellfish and coral reefs. But humans may not be alone in their anxiety: Ocean acidification threatens to make fish more anxious as well (and not because they are reading about ocean acidification on LiveScience.com. At least so far as we know.)

A new study found that after being placed for a week in an aquarium with acidic seawater — as acidic as the oceans are expected to be on average in a century’s time — juvenile rockfish spent more time in a darkened corner, a hallmark of fish anxiety, and the same behavior exhibited by fish given an anxiety-inducing drug.

“They behaved the same way as fish made anxious with a chemical,” said Martin Tresguerres, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Read More Here

Coastal states respond to ocean acidification

December 16th, 2013

Ocean acidification is warming up policy discussions about marine resources.In fact, state agencies and legislatures in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast are considering new laws and regulations to mitigate the effects of climate change on shellfish harvesters and other marine industries.

In August, California and Oregon established the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.This panel was tasked with developing new research and policy proposals to respond to risks from ocean acidification.Those states’ action built on a November 2012 report by the Washington State Blue Ribbon Commission on Ocean Acidification (Commission) that resulted in the creation of a new state panel in Washington to analyze policies to mitigate ocean acidification.1

 

On the East Coast, Maine’s State Legislature passed a joint resolution in March recognizing ocean acidification as a direct threat to Maine’s economy, particularly to clams, mussels, and lobsters.  It called for “research and monitoring in order to better understand ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine and Maine’s coastal waters, to anticipate its potential impacts on Maine’s residents, businesses, communities and marine environment and to develop ways of mitigating and adapting.” 2  A bill to fund further study of ocean acidification was submitted to the legislature in October, although it now appears this bill will be postponed until Maine’s January session.

Read More Here

Ocean acidification bill supporters make case to Maine Legislature.

By Ronald Huber | Jan 13, 2014 The Republican Journal

It was standing room only at the Maine Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee as supporters of  LD 1602  the “Save Our Shellfish” bill, made their case for appointing of a coastwide multisector  committee to study how to reduce the impact of oceanic acidification on Maine species and what proactively to do, fishery by fishery.

Not only were clammers, shellfish farmers and the scientific community evident, The groundfish industry called for the scope to be broadened to consider all Maine marine species from plankton up. A wastewater management too was represented, and a wide spectrum of Maine ENGOs weighed in as well.

The bill’s full title is Resolve, Establishing the Commission To Study the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Its Potential Effects on Commercial Shellfish Harvested and Grown along the Maine Coast

In addition to  bill sponsor Mick Devin, and DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher,  fifteen members of the public and interest groups testified.

Senator Chris Johnson, committee co-chair, gave the introduction to the public hearing (mp3)

Representative Mick Devin Sponsor laid out the case for LD 1602 spending time money and energy getting up to speed on the impact acidification is having on maine marine and estuarine species.

DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher followed, calling for achievable outcomes, not only another report – bottom line is produce something that will help Maine. (3minutes)

Suzy Arnold of Island Institute spoke next. She noted that the pH of some  Gulf of Maine waters is 30% lower than it was (4min 9sec). If our blood went that that much lower we’d be in a coma, Arnold said. The increased acidity is dissolving shells of baby shellfish. Critical prey like zooplankton are affected too. Crabs seem  okay but have thicker shells and slower growth.  The California rockfish and other fish  exhibit confusion & anxiety when acidified on the west coast.

Arnold said that compared to bivalves, nothing known about lobster acidification. This must be a priority. She said Seagrant & Cooperative extension agreed. She noted that there will be a daylong meeting Thursday in Augusta to ID priorities, and that all are welcome.

Read More Here

Bill calls for Maine panel to study acid in Gulf

January 14th, 2014
By North Caim, Portland Press Herald

Speakers at Monday’s hearing say increased carbon dioxide and acid are imperiling shellfish stocks and costing Maine jobs and millions of dollars.

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish the first formal state commission to study the effects of rising levels of acid in the Gulf of Maine.

Representatives of virtually every Maine fishery – as well as state officials, scientists, the recreation, tourism and wastewater treatment industries, environmentalists, private citizens and lawmakers – packed a public hearing Monday before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee to advocate for L.D. 1602, which would set up an 11-member commission.

No one testified against the bill.

The commission would study the Gulf of Maine’s increasing acidic waters and seek methods to ease the problem and correct its ill effects, said Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, who introduced the measure with the support from more than 60 co-sponsors.

Ocean acidification – or the increasing percentage of acid in the ocean waters – has been a growing concern along the coastal U.S., marine scientists have reported.

The commission’s work could be underway by spring if the bill is approved by the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage. The entire cost is not expected to exceed $25,000 in public and private funding.

Devin said it was impossible to say exactly how much acidification already has hurt fisheries and other businesses, including charter tours and whale-watching boats, that operate in the Gulf of Maine. But if acidification has a significant impact on the lobster industry, the costs to the state’s largest fishery would be substantial, he said.

“If the lobster industry is affected, that’s a billion dollars right there,” said Devin, a member of the Marine Resources Committee.

Read More Here