QUILCENE, Wash — Rising acid levels in Puget Sound due to climate change are threatening the Northwest's shellfish population, but one shellfish farmer in Washington state is working to change that.
The Taylor Shellfish nursery in the Jefferson County town of Quilcene is where countless baby shellfish are born and raised.
"They’re really cute," said Diani Taylor.
For thousands of years, the waters of Dabob Bay were the perfect place for shellfish to grow.
That’s why Taylor Shellfish, the biggest farmer of shellfish in North America, built its hatchery here.
But Taylor, one of five generations of family shellfish growers, said about 12 years ago things started to change.
"The oysters were starving to death. They had no energy to complete their development," Taylor said.
Rising acid levels in Puget Sound due to climate change started killing shellfish off in huge numbers.
The tiny creatures couldn’t even grow their protective shells.
At one point Taylor Shellfish lost 75% of its harvest.
"In the Pacific Northwest it's really important because oysters and shellfish are a way of life here, and we’re particularly vulnerable," said Taylor.
Fearing a collapse of the shellfish industry in Puget Sound, the company worked with scientists to develop a system to test and treat the water.
They also grow algae, which is fish food, and pump it into tanks where the baby shellfish eat and grow their shells before they’re moved out to the Sound to mature for harvest.
But while shellfish growers have found a fix for this situation, it is only a band-aid for our global climate crisis.
A new UN report shows acidification in the world’s waters growing more quickly than expected.
Taylor said unless there is a solution soon, this Northwest “way of life” will be moving into rough waters.
"I think the future is the more scary part of the equation," she said. "Reducing carbon pollution globally is what will lessen the impact of ocean acidification over time."