Climate Change May Benefit Pacific Coast Oysters

Oyster farmers on the west coast of the United States may have good news if they can survive the current conditions. Long-term climate changes should increase the number and size of oysters growing in the waters off the Pacific Coast of the United States. The question, however, remains if they can get to that point, according to an article recently published on UC Davis.

The current climate is causing acid to build up in the waters off California and Oregon where Pacific Coast oysters are raised commercially. This acid causes the baby oysters, called spat, to die. Now, oyster farmers are starting to raise spat in other locations and move them to the ocean.

Another problem that the oysters must overcome is oyster drillers. These sea snails are not indigenous to the Pacific Coast but were introduced to the water either from the East Coast or Asia. Drillers use their tongues to drill holes into the oyster’s shell. Once the shell is penetrated, they excrete an acidotic substance which further damages the shell. Eventually, they use their tongues to eat the oyster’s flesh. Long term, drillers should not be able to continue to live in the water’s raising temperatures.

Researchers with the National Estuarine Research Reserve say that warmer ocean temperatures should help Pacific Coast oysters grow faster and bigger. They say that while most oysters eaten today come from the East Coast that when this occurs, then people will switch to eating these oysters instead.

Researchers also say that it is imperative to protect the oysters because they help many other ocean species to survive. Plants and small creatures live in their shells along with the oyster. Therefore, other species may also disappear if the oyster cannot be saved.

Workers with the reserve also hope that one day oysters can be used to create a living shoreline. When this occurs, soil erosion may be stopped. As the erosion becomes less, then West Coast droughts may become fewer and less severe.

The future for Pacific Coast oysters looks bright if the oyster driller can be stopped. Climate change may actually help them grow bigger and stronger.