Washington’s shellfish industry, valued at $270 million a year, provides thousands of jobs. Capable of sustaining entire communities, shellfish harvesting represents a way of life for many people. The Northwest’s changing climate has dramatically impacted these peoples’ livelihood.
The oceans have become more acidic as water absorbs the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by human activity. The corrosive water eats away the shells of oyster larvae, or seeds, which die before fully developing.
This illustration shows the development of six Pacific oyster larvae, each from the same spawn, raised by the Taylor Shellfish Hatchery. Those on the left lived in favorable water conditions, while those on the right grew in more acidic water. Arrows indicate defects to the shell. The scale bar at the top represents the diameter of a human hair.
Working alongside scientists, oyster hatcheries now closely monitor the acidity of seawater and have developed temporary growing techniques. Any long-term solutions to this problem depend on reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.