A new study by Oregon State University researchers has shown that climate change is to blame for massive amounts of oyster die-offs in recent years. Ocean acidification, caused by an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air, is the main culprit.
According to chemical oceanographer Burke Hales, about 75% of oyster larvae at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery died mysteriously in 2008. It took time to prove what scientists were suspecting to be the cause, that the ocean was preventing oysters from developing shells by creating excessively corrosive water.
“We started working on this in 2009 and we thought at the time we knew there was a connection between the oyster story and the CO2,” says Hales. “But knowing it on that level and getting it understood well enough to get it published are two different things.” The study, published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography, is the first study published about the issue.
Oyster larvae build their first shells during the first 24 hours of their lives, making them exceptionally vulnerable to water chemistry inconsistencies. Researchers also note that oyster die-offs are a large indication of what’s to come as far as ocean habitats go, because if oysters are suffering as a result of ocean acidification, what will begin to suffer if it gets worse? I don’t think we can afford to find out.