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Supersized Crabs Bulking Up on Carbon Pollution

Carbon pollution from power plants, factories and vehicles is settling in the ocean — and supersizing crabs, lobsters and shrimp, The Washington Post reports.

But while these crustaceans bulk up as they absorb CO2, high levels of carbon cause oysters to grow slower. In the Chesapeake Bay, where crabs eat oysters, this could lead to a multimillion problem as mega crabs threaten the oyster industry.

Increased CO2 causes the oceans to become more acidic. As Science World Report explains, this spells trouble for creatures with calcium carbonate shells like oysters and corals because more acidic waters causes these creatures to form shells more slowly. This makes them more vulnerable to predators like crabs and lobsters.

Virginia and Maryland are pumping hundreds of millions into efforts to rebuild blue crab and oyster populations to their historical numbers, The Washington Post reports. However, over the next 75 to 100 years increased CO2 levels could continue to pump up the crabs, which could in turn disrupt the food chain of the nation’s largest estuary, the newspaper says.

Research published in the journal Geology in 2009 found crustaceans grew larger more rapidly as CO2 pollution increased. The study found Chesapeake blue crabs grew about four times faster in high-carbon tanks compared to their counterparts in low-carbon tanks. Oysters exposed to high-carbon conditions, meanwhile, grew at one-quarter the speed of those in low-carbon tanks, according to the study.

One bite of good news for marine life: the latest report from the US Energy Information Administration found US energy-related CO2 emissions dropped in 2012 to their lowest levels since 1994. Last year’s emissions — at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 — represent about a 4 percent decline over 2011’s 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions.

While the environmental impact of climate change on the oceans is not a top priority for most businesses other than fisheries or cruise lines, it should be, according to NeboWeb environmental specialist Emily McClendon in 2012 column for Environmental Leader. This issue is how to protect ocean benefits, from providing a food source to helping control sea level rise, McClendon writes.

Her solution: put a monetary price on the oceans. Evaluate ocean benefits from a monetary perspective and assess the cost to maintain them, which provides governments with factual data for allocating those costs and enforcing their payment.

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