The enlightening sea

By James Wright
Seafood Business Magazine

Evidence of environmental degradation due to climate change is both stark and subtle. While the contraction of polar ice caps in recent decades can be measured in miles, other oceanic shifts over time are trickier to detect or to pin on human intervention. The latest science suggests that changes to the oceans of even the smallest magnitude can impact all marine life, from tiny krill to killer whales. Like many of the gigantic challenges the oceans face, the impact of acidification is best viewed through a microscope.

What some marine biologists and oceanographers are seeing through their magnifying lenses is worth paying attention to. In June, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) of Woods Hole, Mass., released a study that said potentially irreversible changes in ocean chemistry — the result of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial activity — could cause U.S. wholesale shellfish revenues to drop by 25 percent in the next 50 years, a loss of up to $187 million annually. If shellfish harvests are to decline by 10 to 25 percent, job losses will mount and, more importantly, marine ecosystems will change profoundly. But not everyone associated with the seafood industry is convinced the end is nigh.

According to the report’s co-author Scott Doney, senior scientist of marine chemistry and geochemistry at WHOI, the total CO2 emissions of the past 150 years of human activity are roughly equivalent to emissions of the previous 10,000 years; CO2 levels in the oceans are at their highest in at least 1 million years. Emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation are the root causes of ocean acidification and overall climate change, say scientists.

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