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Oysterman examining oyster cages in  Riec-sur-Belon, France. (Image Credit: Peter Gugerell)

Oysterman examining oyster cages in Riec-sur-Belon, France. (Image Credit: Peter Gugerell)

The world’s oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which is bad news not only for the shelled mollusks that live in them, but the communities that rely on the shellfish industry, according to a new study published in in Nature Climate Change.

The oceans are becoming more acidic due to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which the oceans absorb. Studies have found that oceans absorb around 25 percent of CO2 emissions, which has caused them to become around 30 percent more acidic over the past century.

The increase in acidity reduces the amount of carbonate ion concentrations, which marine life use to build shells and coral reefs.

In this new study, the researchers looked not only at the impact of acidification on the sea life, but also factors such as pollution that would exacerbate the effects of acidification and also the economic impact to those coastal communities.

Although marine life living off the states in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Alaska will feel the impacts of acidification soonest, economically, communities along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico may be the most vulnerable, the researchers found.

“It’s not just the threat of the changing chemistry,” Chris Langdon, a professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Miami who participated in the study, told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s whether the people – the society – are geared up to do anything about it.”

The researchers in the Nature Climate Change study looked at data regarding projections of ocean acidification changes, local economies’ dependence on shellfish, and social factors like pollution controls or the availability of other jobs to determine which communities were at the greatest risk. They put together a series of maps showing which communities are at risk, as well as a timeframe for when the impacts will be felt.

The Pacific Northwest already felt the economic impacts of acidification between 2006 and 2008, when oyster farmers experienced massive die-offs of up to 70-80 percent of their oyster larvae in some cases.

Gulf Coast states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, although considered to be the most vulnerable, may still have time to adapt.

Elsewhere in the world, ocean acidification has been taking a toll on coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef. Acidic waters affect reefs ability to grow and bleaches the coral that remains. Reports have found that acidification will affect the fisheries globally and that even algae don’t grow as well in acidic water.

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