Pac NW Leads the Nation in Ocean Acidification

Even the ocean in the Pacific Northwest is a hippie, apparently—it’s currently tripping big time on acid. Or, to be more accurate, ocean acidification has hit our region harder than it has other parts of the nation, according to a newly released report from the National Resources Defense Council.

Shellfisheries & Skullduggery

The report, titled “Vulnerability and Adaptation of US Shellfisheries to Ocean Acidification,” named Oregon and Warshington as two of the states most likely to be significantly affected by increasing ocean acidification. This chemical imbalance in the water, caused by carbon dioxide emissions, is not the only factor that plays into these rankings—shellfish are especially susceptible to acidification; many in our region make their living in the shellfishing game.

Larval shellfish (gross) require calcium carbonate from water to form their shells as they develop. Normally, the ocean provides plenty of CaCO3, but all the carbon dioxide we dirty, polluting humans have farted into the waters around the world has neutralized the calcium carbonite. This, of course, makes is hard for the poor lil’ shellfishy buggers to form shells.

Shellfisheries in Oregon and Warshington generate over $100 million in sales annually and employ thousands of people in one way or another. Dying larvae means a dying industry, which in turn can mean a dying economy.

Do you really want to miss out on this deliciousness just because you can't be bothered to take the dang bus once in a while?

Do you really want to miss out on this deliciousness just because you can’t be bothered to take the dang bus once in a while?

“[The Pacific Northwest is] the first place that has seen measurable, attributable impacts from ocean acidification,” said Ocean Conservancy scientist and report co-author Sarah Cooley.

Upwell That Ends Well

The NRDC report also points to other factors that are combining to exacerbate the acidification problem. Puget Sound and other coastal areas are becoming increasingly polluted with nutrient runoff from farms and sewage systems. This has led to an increase in algae blooms that heighten the effects of acidification. Waterways like the Columbia River are highly vulnerable to erosion and pollution, which creates even greater acidity in the water. And upwellings, which hoist acidic water from deep in the ocean onto coastal areas, are helping much, either.

“Upwelling is a normal phenomenon,” Cooley said, “but what is not normal is that the water it’s scooping up has extra CO2 in it.”

As carbon pollution slows no signs of stopping any time soon, Cooley stated, “people are starting to think about ‘How is this affecting our resources?’”

“It’s something that’s going to be constantly changing the baseline, constantly shifting what normal actually looks like,” Cooley added. “With this study, we want to allow some precautionary thinking that will encourage people to think about what they’re likely to experience, and start adapting.” Ultimately, she said, “we really […] have to work on cutting carbon dioxide emissions.”

Photo credit: tuey / Foter / CC BY