What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change

This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are: The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

Read the rest of this column here.


  1. leonard lookner said...

    When we talk about acidification of the ocean, certainly carbon monoxide is a contributing factor. However every time a shelled creature is removed and sent to a location it’s shell ends up in a land fill far from the ocean. The calcium in the shell is for all intensive purposes, mined from the ocean as are many of the trace elements that make up the shell. Each time we dispose of these it is minerals that are not replaced causing a deficit in the natural surrounding of these creatures. In experiments in Maine, clam shells have been used with success to reestablish clam beds that haven’t been productive do to a failed PH.
    So, it’s a pricy game , once again, of an overworked ecosystem and the more we eat the worse it gets. Perhaps we should have a deposit on oyster and other bivalve shells.

  2. Ed Backus said...

    Hello Mark, Thanks for the OA oyster story! However, it seems incomplete in its downplay of how serious the situation is (massive larvae die-off in 2007) and how the industry is adapting. Goose Point Oysters (Willapa Bay, WA) opened a new hatchery in Hawai`i in 2011 (which I just visited 2 weeks ago). Research and learning from the Oregon Whiskey Creek hatchery has informed a new Gulf of Mexico hatchery. Monitoring has been going on since the 2007 die-off event. We hope for the best and certainly that CA growers will thrive, but your story seems missing a big part of the picture!

    Research and evidence that OA impacts oyster culture since 2007

    Opening of new hatchery in Hawai`I by Washington grower

    Extension of knowledge to the Gulf of Mexico from Oregon

  3. Lynice Anderson said...

    Thanks for the insight. When reading about environmental issues like this I always wonder how I can possibly help mitigate the problem in some small way. I am hopeful that if enough people ask the question things will get better.

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