‘What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change’, by Mark Bittman

In years past, when Lana lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoyed the oysters offered at the Hog Island Oyster Company restaurant at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.  This is the third in a series of videos about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating. The series was produced in collaboration with the Global Food Initiative at the University of California.

New York Times  | This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are:  The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

This isn’t theoretical: Hog Island had noticed that its oysters (which arrive as babies “imported” from Oregon and Washington) grow less reliably, more slowly, and with a higher mortality rate than they did several years ago. The business and Hill have since formed a partnership, and Hill’s team dropped instruments monitoring temperature, salinity, pH and oxygen among the oyster beds to see what, if anything, can be done to help the company plan for the future.

Ocean acidification, like everything associated with climate change, is probably going to get worse before it gets better. But in addition to gathering data that Hog Island can use to protect their crop, understanding the impact of climate change and ocean acidification — in this case, oysters that will most likely become more expensive — can help us make those connections less theoretical and more real.

Back to the good news:  I got to go on a cool boat ride and eat a couple of dozen oysters. A slight mitigation of the bad news.

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