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NC Shellfish Growers on Front Lines of Changes to Climate, Ecosystems

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Carbon pollution is changing the chemistry, temperature and biology of the ocean, with negative impacts on oyster farms. (The Nature Conservancy)
Carbon pollution is changing the chemistry, temperature and biology of the ocean, with negative impacts on oyster farms. (The Nature Conservancy)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
November 11, 2020

NEWPORT, N.C. -- North Carolina's oyster farmers are grappling with rising seas, ocean acidification and more severe storms - and many now are speaking out about the climate-change impacts they're witnessing firsthand.

Tyler Chadwick, who grew up in the commercial fishing industry and now owns Carolina Gold Oyster Co., said Hurricane Florence hit during the first year he started growing oysters, followed by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

"I wouldn't say I particularly see a pattern of storms, but I definitely see more and more storms, which is kind of concerning," he said. "I can't remember how many we've had this year, but it's got to be double digits now of the named storms we've had. That's a big risk for me."

Chadwick recently participated in the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition's Heard on the Half Shell, an audio series that aims to collect stories of climate change from shellfish growers across the United States.

Chadwick said more frequent, heavy rains are flushing pathogens and fertilizer into waterways, contaminating oyster habitat and ruining marshes.

"For one, the marsh is a phenomenal habitat for a lot of your smaller animals, and that's a big deal. Your snails, your shrimp, even your fish, your bigger, predator fish go up in there and feed in the marshes," he said. "But your marsh is Mother Nature's filtration device. That's what she uses to help keep some of the fertilizer and stuff that shouldn't be in the water out."

He said that after heavy rains, fertilizer runoff spurs the growth of algae blooms that suck up the ocean's dissolved oxygen.

"And that's why you see all these fish dieoffs, oysters dieoffs, I think, because there's no oxygen, nothing -- you can't live," he said. "Without shellfish, without oysters, without clams, you don't have an ecosystem."

He said shellfish growers from different regions have banded together to advocate for sound climate policies because their livelihoods depend on healthy waters able to sustain ocean life.

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