Shellfish Can’t Stand Climate Crisis

Photo: febb, Wiki CC

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

New England’s iconic lobster roll and summer clam bake are at risk: ocean acidification caused by climate change makes it difficult for their outer shells to form. With no action, crustacean shells in the Gulf of Maine will begin to dissolve in the next 40 years, according to a new report looking specifically at the impact of ocean acidification in Massachusetts. Mollusks like the eastern oysters and sea scallops are especially vulnerable, and the ones that survive will likely be smaller. “Addressing the ocean acidification crisis is essential if we hope to sustain our blue economy and protect our state’s historic coastal and marine environment,” Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who co-chaired the commission, said.

Why this Matters: For marine life, the impacts of acidification will alter the ocean ecosystem. It’s also an economic issue: fishing employs more than 5,700 people in Massachusetts, and the state’s marine is especially dependent on shellfish. In recent decades, shellfish have become a greater share of what fishers land, all while the ocean is becoming more acidic. But the long-term effects of acidification depend on the actions we take today to reduce emissions. 

Acidification among other ocean threats

The ocean absorbs 90% of excess heat and almost a third of global CO2 emissions, but taking all of that in is causing serious harm. Along with ocean acidification, the compounding stresses harms pretty much all underwater life, not just shellfish. The Gulf of Maine off New England’s coast is warming faster than nearly any other body of water on earth, making it a “living laboratory” for scientists to study the impacts of climate change on our oceans. For shellfish, that trend is toward cooler waters farther offshore and farther north — and could eventually be the end of lobster in Maine. 

The ocean as a climate solution

Some solutions could happen right in the shellfish industry, like planting kelp at fishing sites to absorb CO2 and improving acidification monitoring to improve aquaculture. While the ocean faces multifaceted threats, it’s also a big part of the climate solution. There’s only one marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, and nationwide, only about 5% of US waters are fully protected. Expanding these protected areas to encompass 30% of our ocean by 2030 would help solve climate change and biodiversity loss, which are tied together. In order to hit those targets within a decade, the U.S. and other countries will need to accelerate the pace and scale at which they protect the ocean.

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