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Ocean Currents

Parlez vous oysters?

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“Although each of the world’s countries would like to dispute this fact, we French know the truth: the best food in the world is made in France. The best food in France is made in Paris.” That is how “Ratatouille,” one of my favorite movies, begins. Now I don’t want to pick a fight over what city has the best food, but I think we can all agree that Paris has made a name for itself as a food destination and taste exporter. This December, Paris might become world-renowned for exporting something else that has a big impact on food: a global carbon pollution agreement.

For over twenty years, world leaders have struggled to tackle this problem that is ultimately caused by cars, airplanes, agriculture, factories, power plants and other sources at local levels. These leaders will soon meet again in Paris to negotiate a deal that holds countries accountable for their carbon emissions. This is a good thing for we know too well that carbon pollution in the atmosphere hurts the health of people, plants and animals, including the shellfish in our ocean. At Ocean Conservancy, I spend a lot of time thinking about how carbon dioxide emissions drives ocean acidification, and how increasingly corrosive seawater is impacting oysters and the whole ocean food web.

Seafood is an important part of food culture around the world, and it’s also a vital source of protein and jobs in many places. As a result, more and more people are talking about and taking action to tackle ocean acidification. Earlier this month I was in France talking with some of them at an oyster trade show. I was joined by US oyster growers and a US scientist to talk with members of the French oyster farming industry and research community about environmental threats such as acidification and disease. We told of the American experiences of mass die-offs, ongoing research, and work being done to limit the losses.

While the American oyster growers from the Pacific Northwest have certainly seen some of the most surprising and worst impacts of acidification so far, that doesn’t mean other growers are safe, and the East Coast and French growers are certainly starting to pay attention. The French especially have good reason — their industry is worth nearly $1 billion per year, employs thousands of people and supplies about 75% of all of Europe’s oysters. There’s a lot at stake, and there simply isn’t much data or monitoring available to determine when ocean acidification will impact them and how bad it will be.

Others around the world are trying to get a better handle on acidification as well, and as part of the “Pathway to Paris” movement to get a comprehensive international carbon emissions deal, acidification is getting more attention. On Monday during the second Our Ocean Conference in Valparaiso, Chile, the international community committed to expanding the network of marine sensors to better monitor and understand acidification.

The conversations between the American and French oyster growers and scientists were very promising, and as they continue, these individuals can help support the efforts of government officials working to reduce carbon emissions and protect their industry and our ocean. Let’s hope this progress on the ground sets off a groundswell of action to protect shellfish and other food sources worldwide this winter in Paris.

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