Confronting Ocean Acidification

The Chemistry of Our Ocean is Changing

A shell in the sand

The Chemistry of Our Ocean is Changing.

Oysters. Salmon. Sharks. Lobster. Coral. What do these animals all have in common? They evoke strong images and associations—memories of slurping down your first oyster, wearing your first pearls, the first time you saw a shark or felt inspired by a magnificent coral reef. 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 also share something troubling in common—they are all at risk from ocean acidification.

Join thousands of people like you who have signed our national pledge to support ocean acidification research. Together, we the people can make a difference.

The more we know about how ocean acidification impacts sea life, the better we can manage this growing threat. Join us as we fight to make our changing ocean a healthy, more sustainable place.

Take Action

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

Sarah Cooley
Ocean Acidification Program Director, Ocean Conservancy

As more carbon pollution is absorbed by the ocean, our ocean is becoming more acidic. This affects the way animals grow and survive—which of course hurts the animals that eat them and the people who fish for them.

This problem is real, and it’s happening now. In 2014, a Canadian shellfish farming company reported that they lost 10 million scallops and $10 million due to ocean acidification. As the acidification trajectory continues upward, shellfish, including oysters, mussels and crabs, may soon become scarce on people’s dinner plates—and hard to come by for hungry ocean wildlife.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, and all around the world, communities are battling the impacts of acidification. 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. Read on to learn more about the problem—and see what we’re doing to combat it.

The Problem

Threatening the Fundamentals for Marine Life

From air pollution to land-based runoff, carbon pollution is flooding our ocean. Seawater absorbs much of the carbon emissions we pump into the atmosphere, and this causes an increase in acidity that alters the chemical balance of the ocean. This change makes life hard for oysters, clams, corals and other animals, who struggle to build their shells and skeletons, to hunt and to reproduce normally.

Imagine a coral reef without coral or an oyster bed without oysters—these animals provide habitat and food for countless other underwater animals and are an integral part of marine ecosystems. Not to mention the economic importance of these fisheries—the seafood industry supports thousands of jobs and livelihoods, but ocean acidification may put these at risk.


“People do not come to the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.”

Mick Devin
Maine State Representative

Acidification has massive implications for the delicate ecosystems that rely on shellfish and the role they play in the environment. Take oysters, for example: An adult oyster is capable of filtering 25-50 gallons of water a day! Fifty 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. Restoration efforts are underway in many places around the nation, but acidification could threaten that work. Oyster reefs provide shelter for fish and crabs, and they filter water clear of tiny algae and particles. This encourages more seagrass to grow, and this provides homes for other species that we love to eat—like rockfish and blue crabs.

Ocean acidification is more than changing ocean chemistry. Ocean acidification is a jobs and community problem, too.

Americans across the country enjoy the oysters, clams and mussels that shellfish farmers produce. We celebrate special occasions with meals featuring fish, crabs and lobsters caught by American fishermen. 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.


“The shellfish industry is… a family business, a local business. There are shellfish companies that have been in a family for three, four, five generations.”

Katie Schnaffnit
Taylor Shellfish, Shelton, WA

The economic implications are enormous: In 2012, the total U.S. oyster harvest was worth $155 million, with 3,200 oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest alone. The lobster harvest was even more substantial, with a 2012 catch worth $465.8 million. And this doesn’t even include the jobs and income associated with wholesale, processing and retail, which greatly multiply the total impact of American fishing and shellfish farming.


Ocean acidification threatens the survival of the multi-generational coastal businesses that employ hard-working Americans. From 2006 to 2008, several oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly declared bankruptcy because they lost more than 80% of their larvae—the baby oysters. We need to act now to ensure the future of these marine ecosystems—and the communities who rely on them.

The good news is that oyster hatcheries that produce the larvae can now condition the water in their facilities to protect against sudden losses.  And states like Washington, Oregon, California, Maine, Maryland and New York—where coastal communities depend on a healthy ocean to grow and harvest oysters, mussels, lobsters, crabs and more—are taking action now to tackle acidification for the long term.

The Solution

Small Steps Add Up to a Big Impact

We believe that by working together with people in coastal communities, scientists and advocates like you, we can 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 we can 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’re working tirelessly to spread the word about the problem and bring together multiple stakeholders to find solutions. Whether it’s hosting coral scientists at a discussion in Florida or understanding the concerns of the Dungeness crab fishery in the Pacific Northwest, we’re determined to invest in every aspect of solving this intricate problem.


“Ocean acidification is something that’s projected to hit us fishermen in the future, but you don’t want to wait until a crisis.”

John Mellor

This is a multi-faceted problem, and it needs creative solutions. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we work with local fishermen, policy makers and scientists who are all focused on the same 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.

We seek to be a resource for the public and an advocate for stakeholders. Check out our infographics, videos and other educational tools that you can use to help spread awareness about the problem. And, as always, join us in trying to reduce our daily carbon emissions and runoff to help slow the flow of carbon into our ocean.

Join thousands of people like you who have signed our national pledge to support ocean acidification research. Together, we the people can make a difference.

The more we know about how ocean acidification impacts sea life, the better we can manage this growing threat. Join us as we fight to make our changing ocean a healthy, more sustainable place.

Take Action

Want to do even more to help? Donate now to support crucial ocean acidification research, and consider making a monthly donation to support our ongoing work to bring together communities to combat the impacts of acidification in our ocean. We can’t achieve a healthy, sustainable ocean without your commitment.

Donate Today

Recent Posts

Protect Our Ocean

I Will Donate
Search Previous Next Facebook Instagram LinkedIn Twitter Email Anchor Back Waves Wave