Acidic Waters Kill 10 Million Scallops Off Vancouver

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

A worker harvests oysters for Taylor Shellfish in Washington, another company grappling with the effects of ocean acidification.

A mass die-off of scallops near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island is being linked to the increasingly acidic waters that are threatening marine life and aquatic industries along the West Coast.

Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops, estimates his company has lost three years worth of scallops and $10 million dollars — forcing him to lay off approximately one-third of his staff.

“I’m not sure we are going to stay alive and I’m not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive,” Saunders told The Parksville Qualicum Beach NEWS. “It’s that dramatic.”

Ocean acidification, often referred to as global warming’s “evil twin,” threatens to upend the delicate balance of marine life across the globe. As we pump increasing amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, it’s not just wreaking havoc on air quality. The oceans are the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted every year. The more carbon dioxide absorbed, the more acidic the water becomes and as a result, organisms like shellfish no longer have the calcium carbonate they need to build their shells.

The Pacific Northwest is a hot spot for ocean acidification and the declining levels of pH hits baby scallops particularly hard — as they struggle to build a protective shell, they’re forced to expend more energy and are vulnerable to predators and infection.

The rising rate of carbon dioxide emissions “may have pushed local waters through a ‘tipping point’ of acidity beyond which shellfish cannot survive,” Chris Harley, marine ecologist at the University of B.C, told the Vancouver Sun.

Saunders guesses that he lost 95 percent of his scallop crop as of July. And Island Scallops isn’t alone. “Cape Mudge lost 2.5 million animals and some other small growers lost 300,000,” Saunders said.

And the oceans aren’t just taking in carbon dioxide. The ocean absorbs more than 90 percent of global warming — the energy equivalent of about 12 Hiroshima bombs per second in 2013 alone. As climate change steadily drives up both the temperature and acidity of the oceans, shellfish won’t be the only victims. Researchers believe coral reefs are being driven to the brink of extinction and several species of fish are already disappearing at an alarming rate.

“It’s a phenomena that’s happening worldwide,” Island Scallops’ Rob Saunders told the NEWS. “There’s very little hope for us.”