In a preview of what might transpire at the Wellfleet OysterFest Taste the Terroir event next weekend, panelists at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston extolled the evils of ocean acidification – the process of carbon dioxide dissolving in ocean water and shifting the pH balance. Scientists estimate that the oceans have absorbed about a third of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions, causing the ocean to become almost 30% more acidic than it was 150 years ago. Under more acidic conditions it becomes harder for oysters to pull the calcium carbonate they need for their shells out of the water.
“It’s definitely a concern,” said Skip Bennett, founder and owner of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Mass. “The general thought was that the oceans would be the great consumer of carbon, and we wouldn’t see the effects of it. But it’s a problem that we’re seeing in the hatcheries now. It’s a lot worse that anybody [expected].”
Add these voices to the growing chorus. A recent study found that two other important New England shellfish – quahogs and bay scallops – are struggling with increasing ocean acidity. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researchers have said that increasingly corrosive water conditions could cause 10-25% drops in shellfish harvests by mid-century, and a position paper released yesterday by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature emphasizes the threat that ocean acidification poses to coastal and ocean life.