The ocean is becoming more acidic and that’s a growing issue for shellfish and those who make their living harvesting them, according to a new study.
New Jersey is one of 15 states with coastal communities at high risk of economic harm from ocean acidification, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group that led the scientific study.
Ocean acidification is caused by the dramatic increase in carbon dioxide entering the ocean following more than a century of burning fossil fuels, according to an NRDC report. The report is based on the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change today.
Dissolved carbon dioxide triggers chemical reactions that reduce pH, increasing the acidity of the ocean and reducing compounds such as carbonate. Carbonate is crucial because many shellfish and corals need it to build their skeletons and shells, according to the NRDC report.
With less carbonate, organisms expend more energy building shells and less on eating and survival, the report says. That can harm organisms and reduce populations, and accelerating ocean acidification now poses a serious threat to the web of life underwater.
Southern New Jersey counties, including Ocean County, rank second in economic dependence on shellfish nationally, the report says. Shellfish harvests have generated $117 million annually over the past 10 years, on average, but the economic benefits extend well beyond that.
New Jersey has a thriving commercial fishing industry as well as a burgeoning aquaculture community. In 2012, the state had 96 aquaculture farms and 76 of them harvested mollusks. The growing industry more than doubled its sales from $5.79 million in 2005 to $12.4 million in 2012, the report says.
Over the past decade, 77 percent of commercial fishery revenues in southern New Jersey came from shelled mollusks, on average. The top earning species are sea scallops, quahog clams and surf clams, the report says.
Poorly buffered rivers with relatively acidic fresh water — such as the Delaware River — further reduce the pH level and carbonate minerals for shellfish to build their shells, according to the report.
In some areas, farms, lawns and leaky sewage systems pour excess nutrients such as nitrogen into waterways, spurring the growth of too much algae, the report says. Uneaten algae decompose when they die, releasing additional carbon dioxide and raising the acidity even higher. Barnegat Bay and the New Jersey inland bays have a history of nutrient pollution and algae blooms.
But communities and government can take action to address ocean acidification, the report says.
The most effective step toward healthier oceans is to stop pumping carbon dioxide into the sea from cars, factories and power plants, according to the report. But New Jersey policymakers and residents don’t need to wait for global coordination, researchers say.
They, according to the report, can make a difference now by taking these steps:
- Reduce pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen that flows into waterways through smarter farming and development techniques and by installing upgraded sewage treatment.
- Invest in shellfish aquaculture techniques to help protect mollusks from corrosive waters during their sensitive larval phase.
- Help nature cultivate ocean acidification-resistant bivalves by selecting and breeding strains that are naturally more resistant to the ocean changes.
- Increase funding for targeted research and monitoring programs that help protect the shellfish industry, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program and the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring program.
- Establish an ocean acidification task force. States such as Maine, Maryland and Washington have taken important steps toward reducing their vulnerability to ocean acidification by assembling expert commissions to evaluate the risk of economic and ecological harm and to identify measures to mitigate harm.
Photo: (Photo: Natural Resources Defense Council)
View original article at: Acidic ocean poses high economic risk in NJ