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Confronting Climate Change

Taking the ocean into account is critical for successfully addressing climate change, and addressing climate change is critical for the future of the ocean

Confronting our ocean’s changing chemistry

Oysters. Salmon. SharksLobsterCoral. What do these animals all have in common? These animals and their environments are part of the fabric of our lives—whether we live miles from the ocean or whether we are lucky enough to live right by it. They provide important services, from filtering ocean water to being a primary food source for other animals. They provide livelihoods for millions of people around the world, attract tourists and support whole communities. And, they are all at risk from ocean acidification.

The Problem

Threatening the Fundamentals of Marine Life

From air pollution to land-based runoff, carbon dioxide pollution is flooding our ocean. As more carbon pollution is absorbed by the ocean, our ocean is becoming more acidic. This alters the way animals grow and survive—which, of course, hurts the animals that eat them and the people who fish for them.

Imagine a coral reef without coral or an oyster bed with no oysters—normally, these animals provide habitat and food for countless other underwater animals and are an integral part of marine ecosystems. An adult oyster is capable of filtering 25-50 gallons of water a day! 50 years ago, the native oyster population could filter the entire Chesapeake in five days. But, fishing and disease outbreaks have reduced oysters to just 1% of their historic population.

Once I tasted my first really fresh oyster, I understood what all the fuss was about. I felt like I was tasting the ocean, salty air and the sun, too. Oysters are like little ambassadors that speak for their home waters.

Sarah Cooley

Sarah Cooley

Director, Climate Science, Ocean Conservancy

Environmental restoration is underway around the nation but acidification could threaten that work. Healthy oyster reefs provide shelter for fish and crabs, and they filter water clear of tiny algae and particles. This encourages more seagrass to grow, which provides homes for other species we love—like rockfish and blue crabs. Not to mention the economic boost from these fisheries—the seafood industry supports thousands of jobs and livelihoods but ocean acidification may put these at risk.

The money at stake is enormous: In 2017, the total aquacultured U.S. oyster harvest was worth $186 million. The wild-caught sea scallop harvest in 2018 was $541 million. And this doesn’t even include the jobs and income from wholesale, processing and retail, which greatly multiply the total impact of American fishing and shellfish farming.

Ocean acidification is more than an ocean problem. Ocean acidification is a people problem, too. From the Atlantic to the Pacific and all around the world, people who work on the water are facing the impacts of acidification. Many of these farmers and fishermen have operated their coastal businesses for decades, with new family members taking the reins every generation. We want to preserve this way of life. It’s part of our culture and our heritage. Whether you’re a fisherman, you’re in the tourism industry or you just like seafood, this is a problem that affects all of us.

The Solution

We work together with people in coastal communities, scientists and advocates like you to make a difference in the fight against ocean acidification.

To fix the problem for good, we need to cut carbon emissions. But there are many steps to take right now to help mitigate the damage locally and regionally. We work with leaders from all communities and sectors to address carbon pollution and ocean acidification collaboratively. We support scientific research investments to understand this complex threat better. We do this because we love our coastal communities, economies and marine waters.

Ocean Conservancy is on the front lines of ocean acidification outreach and research. We work with local fishermen, policymakers and scientists on the common goal of protecting our coastal communities, seafood heritage and culture. We’re committed to bringing together the brightest minds from coast to coast and around the globe to work towards exciting scientific discoveries and policy actions. You can take action to help us address one of the most widespread threats to coastal communities and the ocean today.


Check out our videos that you can use to help spread awareness about the problem. And, as always, join us in reducing our daily carbon emissions and runoff to help slow the flow of carbon pollution into our ocean.

High Hopes: The Future of Dungeness Crab

Dungeness crab is one of the most valuable commercial fisheries on the West Coast. As ocean acidification changes the chemistry of our oceans, scientists and fishermen are just beginning to understand how it will impact this important species.

Deeply Invested: Coral Reefs and the Future of Florida

A healthy ocean with thriving coral reefs is vital to Florida’s culture, economy and livelihoods. Healthy coral reefs protect property from storm waves, supporting bountiful fisheries and building inviting beaches but ocean acidification endangers those caring relationships by slowing coral growth and reproduction.

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