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An Enemy to Massachusetts’ Shellfish Industry: Ocean Acidification

Massachusetts’ economy generates a revenue upwards of $388 million per year. At the same time, the shellfish industry also provides thousands of jobs to Massachusetts residents. The economy of coastal regions in Massachusetts has grown dependent on the profits and jobs created by the shelled mollusks in their waters. In fact, these regions make more money through their shellfish industry than any other region in the country. Yes, this is something to take pride in but it also makes coastal Massachusetts one of the most vulnerable regions in the nation to the fall out of their most lucrative industry caused by a certain enemy lurking in the shadows.

In our case, our enemy is ocean acidification, and it is incredibly important to understand the processes which have created this environmental villain. So, let’s dive into it. It all started with the influx of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, stemming primarily from the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has been exponentially increasing. Out of all of the annual carbon dioxide emissions, 30% is absorbed into the ocean. When carbon dioxide and water mix, there is a reaction that produces a weak carbonic acid. Because of its weakly bonded nature, carbonic acid is swiftly split into a hydrogen ion (H+) and a bicarbonate ion (HCO3). The increasing amounts of hydrogen ions in the ocean cause a decrease in the pH levels and an increase in acidity, creating our enemy, ocean acidification. Check out this graph to further understand the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and ocean acidification.

Shellfish are calcifying organisms that take in carbonate ions from the environment to generate calcium carbonate, which is used to create and maintain their structures. Unfortunately, the carbonate ions necessary for the shellfish’s survival are much more apt to bond with the increasing amount of hydrogen ions in the marine environment. Put more simply, ocean acidification is stealing the materials needed for shellfish to survive. In Massachusetts, there have already been reports of seed for oyster aquaculture failing to grow, thinner and weaker clam growth, and the decrease in population of hard and soft clams, bay scallops, and oysters. This is the reality of ocean acidification, and the detrimental effects have already begun to take their toll.

To combat this enemy on an individual level, a great start would be to work on decreasing your carbon footprint and to incorporate sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices into your everyday life!


Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. (2020). Overview of Ocean and Coastal Acidification. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. (March 2015). Summary of Ocean and Coastal Acidification Stakeholder Engagement Workshops held in Gloucester and Barnstable. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (February 2015). States Vulnerable to Ocean Acidification. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from


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