Do you like oysters?

by webmaster on June 8, 2009

I’m partial to an oyster or twelve, and being Irish, particularly when washed down with cold creamy stout. I also like mussels and have been known to eat the odd scallop too, so it was with deepening trepidation I read the article ‘Anticipating ocean acidification’s economic consequences for commercial fisheries’ in the June edition of Environmental Research Letters (freely available online).

The problem is that this research has found that there is a significant danger to certain types of shellfish due to ocean acidification caused by rapid absorption of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide into global oceans.

The studies in this paper suggested that commercially valuable bivalve mollusks (mussels, scallops, oysters) and their juveniles are particularly sensitive to these acidification changes because of the way in which they create their carbonate structure – ‘shell’ to you and I. As crustaceans such as shrimp, lobster and crab create their structure in a different way, they may be less susceptible. Now don’t get me wrong – I like a nice shrimp (or prawn as we would call them over here) and lobster so at least I’m happy that I don’t have to give up shellfish altogether!
Seriously though; as well as the acidification potentially directly damaging mollusks, there may be negative metabolic, reproductive and development consequences for many other commercially valuable marine organisms – like an effect on fishes’ ability to grown internal carbonate structures (bones) for instance.
The paper looked specifically at the financial impacts of such ocean acidification on the US commercial harvest of these species, and of course it will also cause the same effect elsewhere. Ireland for example, a small island surrounded by sea, is of course likely to be affected greatly also. It’s quite common in our coastal towns to find many pubs and restaurants which have a large portion of their menus devoted to mussels, oysters, scallops etc.
The paper concludes that the only true mitigation option is to reduce fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, because it is specifically atmospheric carbon dioxide that causes the problem.
This I found interesting because only last Saturday (6th June) I read in the Irish version of the Daily Mail (unfortunately not available online or I would post a link) columnist Shay Healy basically pooh-poohing individual efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere as well as global efforts such as carbon footprinting or the use of carbon credits. While I agree with him that unless properly used, these can be of little value, I sometimes wish that columnists like Mr Healy would do a little more that what seems to be cursory research into what they plan to write about… or maybe he’s not as partial to shellfish as I am!

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