Friday, December 26, 2014

The combined forces of herpes and global warming are threatening to wipe out the world’s oysters

From Salon:

How the warming, rapidly acidifying oceans are harming our seafood supply

Tuesday, Dec 16, 2014

An viral disease with a 100 percent mortality rate is decimating the world’s oyster populations, Bloomberg reports, threatening the $4.1 billion industry.

 Climate change, needless to say, isn’t helping the situation.
Oyster herpes (no relation to human herpes), also known as Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome, has killed the shellfish across Europe, New Zealand and Australia — in one particularly brutal case, the University of Sydney’s Richard Whittington told Bloomberg, wiping out 10 million oysters in just three days. France has been hit especially hard, its harvest now 26 percent below where it was in 2008, when the virus first appeared.

Crucially, experts say, the virus doesn’t begin to kill its victims until water temperatures reach about 61 degrees Fahrenheit or higher — global warming, in other words, could be contributing to its potency. After all, not only is 2014 likely to be the hottest year on record, according to a recently released report from the World Meteorological Organization, but it’s also been marked by record high sea surface temperatures. And it’s only going to get worse.

The full story of what’s killing off oysters at such an alarming rate is still something of a mystery, but herpes isn’t the only factor contributing to die-offs. Quartz points to the increasing acidification of the oceans, yet another consequence of human carbon emissions, that’s literally dissolving the shells of oysters, scallops and other shellfish.

Due to the specific nature of Pacific Northwest wind patterns, shellfish in that area are currently facing the greatest risk: a massive die-off there, which also occurred in 2008, caused the population to plummet.

“I think the oyster industry is kind of the canary in the mineshaft,” Dave Nisbet, an oyster farmer who saw production drop 42 percent by 2012, told Al Jazeera of acidification’s growing threat. “I think we’re kind of the first ones, the first ones to really identify and be able to have a direct linkage to the acidification part of global warming.”

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