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NPR NEWS 2018-02-03
02-05-2018, 10:36 PM
Post: #1
NPR NEWS 2018-02-03

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If you're one to enjoy a big plate of briny oysters, here's some not-so-good news. Climate change is already causing problems for the oyster industry up and down the West Coast, and it's only expected to get worse. As Lauren Sommer reports from member station KQED, one oyster farm is teaming up with scientists to find a way to adapt to it.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: The hotel conference room is jam-packed with political types - lobbyists, policymakers, experts and Terry Sawyer, wearing a blue blazer, trying hard to fit in.
TERRY SAWYER: I am definitely out of my element, out of my comfort zone. I would rather be in shorts and no shoes.
SOMMER: Sawyer is an oyster farmer. He runs Hog Island Oyster Company north of San Francisco. And normally he's knee-deep in mud. But a few years ago, he started going to climate change conferences like this one, trying to understand it. Today he's going on stage as a speaker with a message.
SAWYER: We need help. We're - that canary in a coal mine analogy drives me crazy, but that's we're we are.
SOMMER: To see why, I meet Sawyer on more familiar turf.
What kind are these?
SAWYER: These are sweetwaters. It's a Pacific oyster.
SOMMER: Workers are sorting a huge pile of fresh oysters which have just come out of Tomales Bay right behind us. Sawyer first started hearing about climate change a decade ago. Like a lot of oyster farmers, he buys baby oysters from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington. But the hatcheries were having mysterious die-offs.
SAWYER: The orders that we were getting - if we were getting them at all - they wouldn't necessarily happen at the time or the size that we could take them.
SOMMER: And the main cause - acidic seawater. A lot of the carbon we humans put into the atmosphere is soaked up by the ocean. It's like a carbon sponge. But that's made the water more acidic - about 30 percent more. It's tough on animals that build shells - in other words, bad news for the Pacific shellfish industry, which is worth more than a hundred million dollars.
SAWYER: You don't want to curl up in a fetal position, but you do want to say, we've got to move on this, and we need help.
SOMMER: So Sawyer found help by teaming up with scientists.
KRISTY KROEKER: And we're off.
SAWYER: Good luck.
SOMMER: Kristy Kroeker is a professor at UC Santa Cruz. She's scuba diving in a shallow part of Tamales Bay surrounded by thick, green seagrass waving in the current. This grass is a glimmer of hope for oyster farmers. Plants, whether it's a forest or your lawn, take up carbon dioxide and use it for photosynthesis.
KROEKER: The plants under the water are doing the exact same thing.
SOMMER: By using the carbon, the seagrass makes the water slightly less acidic.
KROEKER: So essentially they're creating this little bubble of seawater around them that's more friendly for animals that might be threatened by ocean acidification.
SOMMER: It's a buffer. So Kroeker is putting baby oysters into the seagrass beds to figure out if that could protect them.
SOMMER: So far the results look promising but not necessarily a silver bullet. Seagrass can reduce acidification around it but maybe only in certain locations or certain times of year. But against a global climate problem, these local approaches have a lot of potential, Kroeker says.
KROEKER: Can we use parts of nature that we already know are important - seagrasses - to actually benefit people and protect them from some of these impacts?
SOMMER: The approach is being studied around the world in different ecosystems or using bigger marine plants like kelp. But eventually it'll be up to oyster farmers like Terry Sawyer to figure out how it can make a difference on the ground. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer.
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