The team’s calculations suggest that in 1870—before people began large-scale harvesting of oyster meat and shells from the Chesapeake—the amount of oyster shell exposed to Bay waters was more than 100 times greater than today, with an equally enhanced capacity to buffer acidity.
“Our data show that that oyster reefs likely played a key role in the pH budget of pre-harvest Chesapeake Bay,” says Mann. “The amount of carbonate in the shells of living oysters at that time was roughly equal to the total amount of carbonate dissolved in the modern Bay. If similar numbers of oysters were alive today, they could take up about half of the carbonate that rivers currently carry into Bay waters.”
The study by Mann and his colleagues estimates that oysters now contribute only 4% to buffering of acidity baywide, whereas they were responsible for 70% of all baywide buffering in 1870.
Looking towards the future, the team’s concern is that oyster reefs in the modern Bay—fewer and smaller than their pre-harvest counterparts and featuring smaller oysters—may be unable to keep pace with the increasing acidity of Bay waters.
David Malmquist | EurekAlert!
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