Posted on the Eugene Register Guard: 22 Sep 2013 — By Diane Dietz — Changing chemistry of seawater poses lethal threat to marine life
Dwight Collins, owner of Newman’s Fish Co., shucks Pacific oysters he sells at his shop in Eugene. The oysters—these from Yaquina Bay—could be the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” in indicating changes in ocean acidification, he says. (Paul Carter/The Register-Guard)
The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the state’s north coast watched oyster larvae die en masse for three years in a row in the mid-2000s — depriving oyster farms along the entire West Coast of seed oysters.
Florence crabber Al Pazar saw baby octopuses, an inch or two long, climb up his crab lines to escape the sea waters in the 2005 season. When he pulled up his pots, the crab were dead.
Eugene fisherman Ryan Rogers, who drags in great piles of salmon on an Alaska purse seiner, has instead brought up nets full of jellyfish in recent years.
“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” he said. “It makes it difficult to bring your net in. You have to let it go and lose the salmon that are in your net.”
Scientists — including many at Oregon State University — are beginning to define the cause of these events. They call it ocean acidification and hypoxia.
Wind, currents and ocean chemistry conspire to create pools of corrosive waters that can be lethal to key commercial species in Northwest waters — and favorable to some nuisance species, such as jellyfish.
The die-off of coral reefs has been publicized everywhere from Australia to the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean. But less well known are the problems surfacing on the West Coast of North America — where people may have more cause to worry.
“Scientists are learning that ocean acidification is hitting waters off the West Coast earlier and harder than elsewhere on the planet,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said recently.
Kitzhaber in August appointed five Oregon State University scientists to a multistate panel that’s charged with determining the extent, causes and effects of ocean acidification along the Pacific coast.
Acidification is a potential threat to shellfish and other marine life and also to thousands of jobs that depend on them, according to the governor, so the state needs a clearer understanding of what’s happening in Oregon’s waters.
“Equally evil twin”
The precise cause is poorly understood but, study-by-study, experts in chemical and physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology, ecology and physiology are building a picture of the problem.
Read the rest of the story on the Register Guard.