Last week I shared a project on the state of the Eastern oyster, which included a review of restoration efforts in the Chesapeake region and a study on the potential impact of ocean acidification on the oyster population. As I mentioned in this report, acidification has had a major impact on the West Coast oyster industry, but has not yet had much of an effect on the East Coast. It is difficult to predict how the Chesapeake Bay will be affected by acidification, given the unique estuary that the Chesapeake is. The Bay is a mix of freshwater and saltwater, and salinity and depth vary across the estuary. Although many reports on ocean acidification exist, there are very few studies that have been conducted on acidification on coastal systems.
I learned today of a professor who has been studying the issue of acidification, and its effect on species native to the Chesapeake, such as the Eastern oyster and blue crab. Justin Ries works at the Marine Science Center in Northeastern University in Boston, and has been growing oysters and blue crabs in the lab. The organisms have been raised in water with high levels of carbon dioxide, to mimic possible future conditions on the East Coast. The results don’t look so promising for the now growing Chesapeake oyster industry. (See a 2010 Earth Magazine write-up here).
However, as mentioned, there is uncertainty as to the extent acidification will affect the Chesapeake. More studies must be conducted on coastal estuaries to be able to predict future conditions. In the meantime, representatives in the state of Maryland are attempting to bring this issue up for further study, examining the effects of acidification, and possible solutions, to be included in a report by the Maryland Department of Environment next year, (Maryland House Bill 118). Hopefully other states, especially Virginia, will follow suit.