When you’re sitting at a raw bar feasting on oysters, the environment may be the furthest thing from your mind. But Washington state’s shellfish industry is threatened by a global problem – ocean acidification.


The oceans absorb about half of all human emissions of carbon dioxide. That extra carbon makes the water more acidic and interferes with the ability of clams, mussels, and oysters to build strong shells.

For help keeping the fishery productive, researchers are turning to an unexpected ally: a fast-growing type of seaweed called kelp.

Kelp absorbs carbon during photosynthesis. So Jan Newton of the University of Washington says scientists believe that growing and then removing kelp before it decays may take enough carbon out of the water to provide a better environment for shellfish. However …

Newton: “The oceans are extremely large, and this effect will be very much a localized effect.”

To test the approach, scientists began planting floating beds of kelp offshore this past spring. And over the next two years, Newton and her colleagues will monitor CO2 levels in the surrounding waters.

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If they find a significant effect, kelp may one day be used by local fisheries to give their oysters and clams a fighting chance against ocean acidification.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Kelp photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Washington Ocean Acidification Center
Studies testing kelp to ease effects of ocean acidification
Can kelp save the Pacific Ocean?
West Coast scientists sound alarm for changing ocean chemistry
Ocean chemistry puts oysters at risk
Puget Sound Restoration Fund

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...