Ocean Acidification Threatens Alaskan Crab Fishery


Ocean acidification, the lesser-known twin of climate change, threatens to scramble marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom. Scientists fear changing ocean chemistry will drive the collapse of Alaska’s iconic crab fishery. Watch the video from PBS NewsHour and the Seattle Times.

ocean acidification, climate change, Alaskan fisheries

Below deck on the Arctic Hunter, workers from Westward Seafood unload snow crab at the dock in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. While scientists have struggled to study the direct effects of ocean acidification on snow crab, related research on other crab species suggests they, too, might be susceptible. Photo By Steve Ringman in the Seattle Times.

Changing Ocean Chemistry Threatens Alaskan Crabs

Fishermen have found fortune and adventure in the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. But ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions has begun to alter the chemistry of the North Pacific, posing a threat for Alaska’s crabs. PBS NewsHour’s Ray Suarez reports in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and The Seattle Times.

When CO2 mixes with water it takes on a corrosive power that erodes some animals’ shells or skeletons. It lowers the pH, making oceans more acidic and sour, and robs the water of ingredients animals use to grow shells in the first place.  — Craig Welch, Seattle Times

The chemistry of the North Pacific Ocean is changing in ways that pose serious threats to Alaska’s two signature crab species: the red king crab and the snow crab. The culprit is ocean acidification.

Already, the oceans have grown 30 percent more acidic since the dawn of the industrial revolution — 15 percent just since the 1990s. By the end of this century, scientists predict, seas may be 150 percent more acidic than they were in the 18th century.

The oceans are corroding faster than they did during past periods of marine extinctions that were linked to souring seas. Even 55 million years ago, the rate of change was 10 times slower than today. The current shift has come so quickly that scientists five years ago saw chemical changes off the West Coast not expected for half a century.  — Craig Welch

STORY: Climate Warming Catastrophe, Mass Extinctions Underway

This report, produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center and the Seattle Times, is the first of a three-part PBS NewsHour series on the unexpected consequences of climate change called “Coping with Climate Change: Arctic Thaw.”

Read the full article by Craig Welch and photography by Steve Ringman in The Seattle Times.

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