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Acidic Ocean Water Is Literally Eating Through Sea Creatures' Shells

It's leaving them in serious danger.

We prefer our shelled marine mammals with their shells, which is why we're so worried about ocean acidification.

That's the process where carbon dioxide from our energy use on land settles in the ocean. It makes the pH of the water drop considerably, which isn't good for sea life that depend on a healthy pH balance.

The EPA reported that it also slows down or erases the ocean's production of calcium carbonate — which are vital chemicals shellfish need to construct their homes.

The ocean's acidity levels have increased 30 percent in the last 200 years, according to Smithsonian.

Those levels grow more all the time thanks to our continued burning of fossil fuels.


It's been known for a few years that the rising toxicity of the ocean is bad news for sea animals that use the ocean's healthy compounds to build their shelled homes.

But a new study conducted on triton shell sea snails shows exactly how bad the ocean's acid levels are for their hard exteriors.

This heat-map shows where the sea snails are most likely to experience shell damage, with red being the most severe.

According to EurekAlert, researchers in Japan studied how projected acid levels would affect the shells of sea snails. But the scientists were able to conduct the study in real time because of an area of Japan that has high acid levels already.

Thanks to a marine volcano in the area, carbon dioxide is seeping into the seabed and throwing off the ocean's pH levels in ways that reflect how the entire ocean will be if nothing changes.

And something certainly needs to change given how bad the acid will be for all shelled marine animals.

The Japan study of sea snails found that the acidity of the water affected the thickness and structure of the shells. It wore away the protective layers — in some cases exposing the soft, vulnerable flesh of the sea snail.

The researchers found that the acid also hindered shell growth, causing a 66-millimeter drop in shell length when compared to healthy triton snails elsewhere.

The bottom shell in this photo is the smaller, thinner, more damaged one.

But sea snails aren't the only ocean life that will suffer if ocean acidification continues to rise.

According to the Smithsonian, mussels, clams, urchins and starfish will also suffer. NOAA adds that oysters and corals will struggle as well. All of those animals depend on the water being a certain pH level and those calcium carbonate chemicals to exist in order to build the protection that keeps them safe.

Without shells to protect them, shellfish die-offs will drastically affect the seafood industry. Plus, other animals who rely on these shelled creatures for food will starve.

It's a potential ripple effect that no one is going to want to see.


Smithsonian reported that the oyster industry is already suffering because some oyster larvae are unable to grow their shells in those critical first two days after they're born. Mussels also can't hold on to rocks as well when water acidity levels are higher, which is wiping out those stocks.

NatGeo reported that animals close to shore are the most at risk because that's where fossil fuel carbon dioxide settles first. It's also a large part of where humans get shellfish to eat.

We're not all doom and gloom today, though. There are steps you can take to reduce your own carbon footprint to help lower the amount of carbon dioxide entering our waters.

Smithsonian recommended reducing your energy output by walking, biking or using public transportation instead of driving. You can also check your tire pressure to reduce gas consumption, turn off your lights when you're not using them and support clean energy initiatives like solar and wind.

Shelled animals have shells for a reason, and we need to help them keep theirs intact.


Add your name right now to make a difference for marine life and our oceans with Oceana.

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