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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.

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

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.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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