Acidic Waters Spell Death to 10 Million Scallops


B. McPherson

Vancouver Island is surrounded by clean, cold water. The Pacific Ocean cradles the island moderating its climate and providing livelihoods for many in the fishing industry. One of the successful, modern fisheries is raising of scallops in the Georgia Strait in Qualicum Bay.

Vancouver Island Scallops have developed a method for farming the delectable little morsels and until the past few years, been very successful at it. The scallops are started in the hatchery and when they have attached to lines are put in nets and placed in the ocean waters. Scallops are filter feeders so they get their food from plankton floating in the cold waters. It usually takes about three years before a scallop is ready for commercial harvesting.

Scallops are called bivalves(two shells). The shells are made up of chalky material high in calcium carbonate. You know what a scallop shell looks like if you’ve ever seen the Shell Oil symbol. That’s it.

Unfortunately for the scallops and their shellfish cousins, they depend on a healthy ocean to survive. This includes the acidity of the water, measured on a pH scale. The scale has been steadily moving to the acid side. This has meant that the shellfish have been unable to grow their chalky shells because the calcium they need is eroded by the acidic action of the water.

The upshot of this is Vancouver Island Scallops has suffered a $10million loss and all of their juvenile scallops in the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 95% loss in 2013. They have been forced to lay off ten workers and more may follow.

"I'm not sure we are going to stay alive and I'm not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive," Saunders told The NEWS. "It's that dramatic." ParksvilleQualicum Bay News


The culprit here is carbon dioxide. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into its water, but as it approaches its limit to do so turns it into carbonic acid. That’s the same mild acid that is in your fizzy sodas. Perhaps one of your teachers showed you how bad sodas are for your teeth by submersing an egg in Coke for a week. No? Well the eggshell is gone, dissolved into solution. That’s the same thing that is happening to shellfish all over the world.

To date our oceans have been absorbing the carbon dioxide that we release when we burn things – wood, oil, coal. It has been adding up ever faster since the Industrial Revolution and now we are at a critical stage. Like the canaries in the coal mines, the shellfish and coral reefs are telling us something. It’s time to get serious about alternate forms of energy.


Everything is connected to everything else, including us.

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