As waters acidify, Maine looks to Pacific Northwest peers for help

January 22, 2015 by Chris Adams, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau

In the icy waters of midcoast Maine, Bill Mook has his eyes on his oysters - and how the waters they need to survive are gradually, but clearly, changing.

Down the coast near Portland, the issue is clams and the mud flats that have become inhospitable to their survival.

Farther south still, near Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the worry is so-called "sea butterflies," tiny marine snails that live low on the food chain and are - like the oysters and clams - threatened by a process known as "ocean acidification."

"We're acidifying the oceans," said Mark Green, a professor of environmental science at Saint Joseph's College in Maine. "We don't know exactly what's going to survive and what's not, but there will be extinctions."

Ocean acidification is sometimes referred to as "the other carbon dioxide problem," and it's exactly what the name implies: the gradual increase of acid in the world's waters. It's fueled by the burning of fossil fuels and the massive amounts of carbon that releases. A good chunk of that is absorbed by the world's oceans, making the water more acidic.

Additional acid makes it hard for some species to develop the shells they need to survive. And that's instilled fear in government and fisheries leaders around the country.

In Washington state and the Pacific Northwest, the issue hit home between 2005 and 2009, when acidified conditions killed billions of oyster larvae at two of the main hatcheries that provide Pacific oysters to growers. Hatcheries scrambled to boost the monitoring of ocean chemistry and to adapt growing methods to avoid particular acidic waters.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, points to other hotspots: in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal California, Alaska, Maine, North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay region, all of which have important seafood industries; and in Florida and Hawaii, which have coral reefs - and associated tourism - to protect.

But while carbon-fueled climate change is a hot issue politically, its sibling - ocean acidification - has escaped much public notice except in the affected regions.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in a September report that the "current rate of acidification is believed to be faster than at any point in at least the last 20 million years." But, it added, the federal government hasn't done as much as it could have to implement a 2009 law to respond to the potential crisis, such as developing adaptation strategies.

Here in Maine - where lobster is king and oysters, clams, eels, scallops and other species round out a thriving seafood industry - members of the state commission decided they couldn't wait for the federal government to act.

"Perhaps the most alarming of the commission's findings is how much we do not know about ocean acidification and how it will affect Maine's commercially important species, including the iconic lobster," a state commission on the issue recently wrote. It said actions "can and must be taken to understand, prevent, reduce and mitigate the negative impacts" of the phenomenon, and noted that there are so-called "mud flats" in Casco Bay off Portland where juvenile soft-shell clams struggle to survive in acidified conditions.

"We're really closely linked to the sea," said Mook, who runs an elaborate oyster operation on the Damariscotta River and who served on the Maine commission. But, he added: "When you look at the science of what we know about lobsters and how they are going to be affected by ocean acidification, we essentially are clueless."

The Mook Sea Farm combines sophisticated oyster breeding with a rugged growing operation. Inside its hatchery, nestled at the end of a gravel road about an hour's drive northeast of Portland, adult oysters are bred to produce about 100 million juvenile oysters - seed - annually.

Most of those are sold to other growers, from the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic. The rest are grown in the warm, salty waters in the upper part of the Damariscotta River, a long embayment of the Gulf of Maine, where they become - depending on size - Wiley Point or Pemaquid Point oysters and are destined for sale in the half-shell market.

One frigid day in early January, three of Mook's workers loaded dozens of bags of oysters and set out for an icy ride downriver, to put oysters too small to sell back into cages at Mook's winter harvest site.

The winter harvest leases contain hundreds of cages affixed to air-filled floats. Once there, Jeff Auger, Nate Jones and Luke Gardiner grabbed bags of oysters from three containers they'd loaded onto the boat and slid them into empty, ice-encrusted cages. Then they flipped the cages over, so the oysters were submerged but still floating at the top of the river.

Oysters spend the first two or three months of their lives in the hatchery, and then a year or more in the river.

Jones steered the boat to another set of cages, where the men pulled bags of ready-to-ship oysters out of the river and loaded them into the boat.

"Is that 10?" Auger asked. "That's it, if it's 10."

"It's 10! It's 10!"

Those oysters might be on a restaurant plate within a week, getting shipped as near as Boston and as far as Los Angeles.

Mook's operation is 30 years old, and during that time he's seen the salinity - salt content - of his river water decrease, a consequence of more rain, which researchers tie to climate change. During a particularly rainy year about five years ago, excess runoff from the land also increased the acidity in his waters, slowing the growth of in the hatchery.

That runoff is a form of coastal acidification, basically a subset of the broader ocean acidification phenomenon.

"You have this global situation with carbon being pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and then dissolving in the ocean. That's happening everywhere: It's happening here, it's happening in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Bermuda Triangle, everywhere," Mook said. On top of that, he added, "you have these regional processes that exacerbate what's happening on the global scale."

Mook said he saw no evidence that acidification had affected the growing out on his leases. But, he added, "We are very certain that acidification has caused us to modify our procedures in the hatchery."

"It's not as though this is wiping us out, or anything like that," he said. "What concerns me the most is that there's a trend going in the wrong direction."

About five years ago, after acidic waters walloped the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest, Washington state fishermen came to talk with their peers in Maine. On both coasts, they've begun to modify their growing strategies - pumping water in at different times, for example - to avoid the increases in ocean acid.

The Maine commission, which also relied on the experiences in Washington state, met several times last year, and discovered how little scientists know about acidification.

Among other things, the commission said Maine needed to boost research into acidification and its impact locally, increase monitoring of water chemistry to better detect emerging problems, reduce pollution discharges that end up contributing to , and do what a small state such as Maine can to help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The commission expects to finalize its report this month.

Explore further: Ocean acidification a culprit in commercial shellfish hatcheries' failures

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25 comments

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RWT
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 22, 2015
Reality called, it says the CAGW cultists are missing.

http://upload.wik...tion.png
Maggnus
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 22, 2015
Reality called, it says the CAGW cultists are missing.

http://upload.wik...tion.png


WTF does this even mean? And the link is to a graph about what?
mbee1
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2015
the oceans are not acidifying and never will in the lifetime of the human race. Animals equivalent of oysters were around when the atmosphere had ten times today's levels of CO2. This is junk reporting based on junk science. The real problem for the commercial oyster farmers is disease. That is what is killing the oysters. How do we know that? Because oysters in other areas are doing just fine.
mbee1
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2015
I should add that a major problem for oyster farmers is sewage dumped in the ocean which has zero to do with ocean acidification. Oysters like clams filter feed many gallons of water a day. A tiny proportion of bacteria or virus or chemicals in the water from sewage and storm drains winds up in the oysters which is not good for them or us. .
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
Reality called, it says the CAGW cultists are missing.

http://upload.wik...tion.png


WTF does this even mean? And the link is to a graph about what?
Are you really unable to figure this out? It is obviously a graph depicting global aquaculture production.

This appears to be the reference's source:

http://en.wikiped...aculture

gkam
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
It still makes no point.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2015
It still makes no point.
The inference is clear. If ocean acidification is such a problem, why is production increasing so rapidly?

gkam
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
Does 0oooba really think it is that simple? Do you think ocean water is the same world-wide? Do you REALLY think the mixing is that good? Do you REALLY think you cannot have areas of more acidity or more less Oxygenation, or other differences?

The production is increasing because we are starting to do it!! We will run into acidification problems which will limit our use of it. I do not understand you folk who do not read the article or even think.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
Does 0oooba really think it is that simple? Do you think ocean water is the same world-wide? Do you REALLY think the mixing is that good? Do you REALLY think you cannot have areas of more acidity or more less Oxygenation, or other differences?
Of course there are differences, but AGWites systematically ignore that normally more acidic regions do just fine.

The production is increasing because we are starting to do it!! We will run into acidification problems which will limit our use of it. I do not understand you folk who do not read the article or even think.
Ridiculous. Do you think the oceans just up and lost all their shellfish when atmospheric CO2 and ocean accidifiction was many times higher than it is now?

gkam
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
Prove ocean acidification was higher in the past, and that we could survive in such an environment. Acidification would support a different spectrum of life than we have now.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Jan 24, 2015
Prove ocean acidification was higher in the past, and that we could survive in such an environment. Acidification would support a different spectrum of life than we have now.
How high do you want to go? It's even hypothesized that the oceans have been so saturated with CO2 that the word "soda" was applicable.

http://www.scienc...85900233

gkam
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2015
Could we survive in such an environment? That is the point exactly.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2015
Could we survive in such an environment? That is the point exactly.
Irrelevant. This extreme is not what is occurring.
gkam
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2015
No, Oooba, our survival is EXACTLY the topic.

BTW, in another thread I gave my name out as George Kamburoff and invited others such as yourself to do the same. If we do not identify ourselves, we cannot learn from each other, but just play ego games. Let us use this for debate and education, not attacks.
gkam
3 / 5 (2) Jan 24, 2015
Come out and play, oooba. No hiding.

Who are you? How did you arrive at your opinions?
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (6) Jan 24, 2015
No, Oooba, our survival is EXACTLY the topic.

BTW, in another thread I gave my name out as George Kamburoff and invited others such as yourself to do the same. If we do not identify ourselves, we cannot learn from each other, but just play ego games. Let us use this for debate and education, not attacks.


I have to disagree with you here gkam. I will not provide my real name on an internet site, ever again. There are people out there that I do not wish to know. It's extending an invitation to everyone, and that's both dangerous and unnecessary.

I prefer to judge people by their words. I don't need to know runrig to know that he speaks with reason.
gkam
1.3 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2015
"There are people out there that I do not wish to know. It's extending an invitation to everyone, and that's both dangerous and unnecessary."
---------------------------------------------

Yeah, but I am going to do it. I had to retire around 2006, when I was drafted as Deputy Foreperson on Federal Criminal Grand Jury 06-2 for the Northern District of California. It taught me a lot and gave me some good contacts in those 70 sessions in 24 months in San Francisco. Harassment is against the law, and if the internet is used it automatically becomes a federal crime.
Maggnus
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
"There are people out there that I do not wish to know. It's extending an invitation to everyone, and that's both dangerous and unnecessary."
---------------------------------------------

Yeah, but I am going to do it. I had to retire around 2006, when I was drafted as Deputy Foreperson on Federal Criminal Grand Jury 06-2 for the Northern District of California. It taught me a lot and gave me some good contacts in those 70 sessions in 24 months in San Francisco. Harassment is against the law, and if the internet is used it automatically becomes a federal crime.


That's great, and if I was in California or the United States that might even mean something to me.

As it is, I am not in either of those places. So your county's laws may not mean anything in my country.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2015
I'll find you.
Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (2) Jan 24, 2015
Guess we're gonna need a whole lot of Ph-UP...
Maggnus
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2015
I'll find you.


You'd be welcome - we'd have some of the local beer, slap some steaks on the barbee and enjoy some stimulating convo!
Shootist
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2015
Seawater:

Acid measured in parts per billion.
Buffers measured in parts per thousands.

"the polar bears will be fine". - Freeman Dyson
Whydening Gyre
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2015
That's great, and if I was in California or the United States that might even mean something to me.

As it is, I am not in either of those places. So your county's laws may not mean anything in my country.

Just a little geography quibble... California is IN the United States. So being in EITHER place, well, presents a little bit of a quandary...:-)
Maggnus
3 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2015
That's great, and if I was in California or the United States that might even mean something to me.

As it is, I am not in either of those places. So your county's laws may not mean anything in my country.

Just a little geography quibble... California is IN the United States. So being in EITHER place, well, presents a little bit of a quandary...:-)


Well yes, but you CAN be in the United States without being in California, therefore I can say I am not in either of those places, even though if I was in California I would be in both.
Whydening Gyre
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 25, 2015
Well yes, but you CAN be in the United States without being in California, therefore I can say I am not in either of those places, even though if I was in California I would be in both.

You are correct. Oops...:-)

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