The excess carbon dioxide responsible for global warming also increases the acidity of seawater, challenging the growth and survival of oysters and other shellfish. A team led by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is helping oyster growers and restoration specialists better manage their future responses to acidification in the Chesapeake Bay.

The study will develop tools for forecasting acidification thresholds to help commercial shellfish growers make more informed decisions, thus helping to protect an industry that in recent years has generated around $15 million in farm-gate value in Virginia, and $9 million in Maryland.

Increased seawater acidity hampers the growth and survival of oysters and other shellfish by eating away at their calcium carbonate shells, the same process that causes carbonated sodas to corrode the enamel of human teeth. It also reduces the number of carbonate ions dissolved in seawater, making it more difficult for oysters to build their shells in the first place. Acidification is particularly challenging to oyster larvae and juveniles.

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