Days num­bered for kai moana, says US ex­pert

Taranaki Daily News - - News -

Bet­ter savour those oys­ters or green-lipped mus­sels while you can, be­cause New Zealand shell­fish could be oblit­er­ated by green­house gases.

An Amer­i­can ex­pert told a Univer­sity of Otago con­fer­ence that a ‘‘mas­sive shell­fish extinction event’’ could be on the cards.

Todd Cap­son will speak with govern­ment of­fi­cials and sci­en­tists to­day on what must be done to pre­vent the rapid dis­ap­pear­ance of seafood lovers’ favourite fare. ‘‘It’s not al­ways a grad­ual change. If you ex­ceed a cer­tain thresh­old, things die.’’

The is­sue arose be­cause CO in the ocean trans­formed into an acid, Cap­son told the del­e­gates at the For­eign Pol­icy School sem­i­nar dur­ing the weekend. Ris­ing lev­els of the gas from car­bon fu­els meant more of this acid – ‘‘the same thing that makes Coca-Cola fizzy’’ – dis­solved the sub­stance oys­ters and other shell­fish needed to make their shells.

With­out enough cal­cium car­bon­ate in the seas to make a fully de­vel­oped shell in their first days of life, the baby crea­tures died.

Cap­son said Amer­i­cans have al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced the dev­as­ta­tion ‘‘ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion’’ could bring. In 2007, seafood farm­ers off the coast of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton states lost nearly 80 per cent of their shell­fish stock.

Once-thriv­ing habi­tats sud­denly be­came dead zones, leav­ing a NZ$340 mil­lion in­dus­try that em­ployed 2000 work­ers on the brink of col­lapse, Cap­son said.

Last year, af­fected Amer­i­can aqua­cul­ture work­ers vis­ited their Kiwi coun­ter­parts with a chill­ing warn­ing. ‘‘This hap­pened to me and it’s go­ing to hap­pen to you.’’

Dur­ing his time in New Zealand, Cap­son, of the US Sus­tain­able Fish­eries Part­ner­ship, will also meet with the seafood in­dus­try to dis­cuss how ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion can be mon­i­tored and farmed shell­fish pro­tected.

Green-lipped mus­sels and other shell­fish were also put at risk by run-off from the land that led to al­gal blooms on the coast­lines, Cap­son said. Rad­i­cal change was needed to en­sure such seafood species did not van­ish, he said.

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