Oyster-lovers beware ... this delicacy could become a rarity

Posted on April 24th, 2012 by Shravya Reddy

 As an ardent foodie, I was concerned to see the results of a new study last week. The study warns that oyster production may decline due to rising carbon dioxide levels. Researchers found that higher levels of carbon dioxide in ocean water made the water more acidic and reduced the ability of oyster larvae to develop shells. This impaired the ability of oysters to grow at a normal pace, and led to a decline in yield.

This study was based on experiments at one oyster hatchery in Oregon, the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Oregon's Netarts Bay, but its findings may have implications for oyster lovers elsewhere.

As the level of carbon pollution in the atmosphere increases, the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide. This makes the water more acidic. Acidity of the water affects the formation of calcium carbonate, the material from which oyster shells are made. But this problem could affect a whole range of marine life, not just oysters.

I've been a vegetarian for many years now, but I remember just how much I used to love oysters and other seafood. And I find myself vicariously enjoying them when I'm eating out and my friends or dates order yummy-looking oyster preparations! But beyond mere self-gratification, the reason I find this study upsetting is because it shows how human actions take a toll on other life forms on our planet. We're affecting the ability of other species to survive, simply because of our addiction to dirty energy.

Well, this type of ecological collapse will eventually take a toll on us too. Oyster die-offs could have severe consequences for the people whose livelihoods depend on these farms and hatcheries. Commercial oyster production on the U.S. West Coast directly generates more than $100 million in revenue annually, and indirectly supports economic activity worth $273 million.

Recognizing the risks we face from ocean acidification, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is exploring ways to address the problem. But we can't just wait for future regulation, and need to start acting sooner to reduce carbon pollution levels in our air and water. If not, losing out on a beloved delicacy may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Leave us a comment if you think our leaders around the world should be more concerned about increasing acidification of our oceans, and should start acting to protect marine life as well as human livelihoods that depend on the oceans.

 
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