Our fancy dinner oysters can tell us a lot about how our oceans are changing.

Find out why some baby oysters can't form strong shells.

Oysters. We love 'em.

You can imagine why people love oysters so much: They're a low-fat, high-protein food with a fresh, briny flavor — nature's perfect bar snack.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman is a fan, too. When he moved from the Big Apple to San Francisco in January, trips to a raw bar at a local market became part of his weekend routine.


But "there are troubled waters ahead for oysters," according to Bittman.

Image via Mark Bittman: California Matters.

Oysters are threatened by ocean acidification.

When we use fossil fuels, it not only endangers animals in the ocean with oil spills, but it also changes the actual chemistry of the ocean.

The extra carbon dioxide that burning fossil fuels adds to the environment causes ocean acidification, which lowers the water's pH level and can affect the skeletons and shells of sea creatures. The extra CO2 also affects the level of calcium carbonate minerals, which are important components of the shells of oysters and other shellfish.

Here's a visual of how the ocean is changing over time because of fossil fuel use.

The future has more jellyfish, fewer healthy coral reefs, and sick little shellfish on the bottom of the acidified ocean. Source: ClimateCentral.org, used with permission.

Ocean acidification means baby oysters can't form strong shells.

Without their calcium carbonate homes, the soft, naked bodies of oysters don't do so well. Oysters and other shellfish have evolved to protect themselves from predators with their shells. Clams without clam shells are not very tough.

Though acidification affects oceans worldwide, some of the early effects are being felt on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada.

One family of oyster farmers has already moved away Washington to Hawaii. A shellfish farmer in British Columbia reported the loss of 10 million scallops due to ocean acidification.

The reason the West Coast is being hit with ocean acidification is also one of the reasons why it's such an abundant ecosystem. The area experiences "upwelling," a term for a pattern of water moving in the ocean.

As the cold water currents deep in the ocean hit obstacles (like the coast of California), that layer of cold water moves up toward the surface. The cold water from the deep brings up nutrients that support animal life, but it is also more acidified than the warmer surface of the ocean.

Experts expect the effects of upwells to worsen as we continue to burn fossil fuels in the coming decades.

Researchers are seeing the impact of ocean acidification firsthand.

In the video below, Mark Bittman discusses the future of oysters with researchers from the University of California, Davis. He visits them at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, an hour and a half drive north of San Francisco, to understand how climate change is affecting one of his favorite items on the menu.

The cure for ocean acidification? Leave fossil fuels in the ground.

By cutting the use of fossil fuels such as coal, we can help stop the ocean acidification already underway. Do it for the shellfish. Or do it because you love seafood snacks. Either way, it's a healthier ocean.

Heroes
True
The Wilderness Society


Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

Keep Reading Show less
Packard Foundation
True

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Amy Johnson

The first day of school can be both exciting and scary at the same time — especially if it's your first day ever, as was the case for a nervous four-year-old in Wisconsin. But with a little help from a kind bus driver, he was able to get over his fear.

Axel was "super excited" waiting for the bus in Augusta with his mom, Amy Johnson, until it came time to actually get on.

"He was all smiles when he saw me around the corner and I started to slow down and that's when you could see his face start to change," his bus driver, Isabel "Izzy" Lane, told WEAU.

The scared boy wouldn't get on the bus without help from his mom, so she picked him up and carried him aboard, trying to give him a pep talk.

"He started to cling to me and I told him, 'Buddy, you got this and will have so much fun!'" Johnson told Fox 7.

Keep Reading Show less
Most Shared