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Supersize Me: Carbon Pollution Gives Rise To Bigger Blue Crabs

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Apr 08, 2013 01:57 PM EDT
Blue Crab
As carbon pollution causes the blue crab to grow, the oysters are in fact shrinking, according to a study conduced by marine geologist Justin Ries. (Photo : REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia )

Life only gets harder and harder for the Chesapeake Bay's oysters - only this time it isn't human harvesting or some mysterious disease, it's carbon pollution and super crabs.

In a story that sounds a lot like that of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', scientists have found that the blue crabs in this bay region are increasing in size by as much as four times through carbon pollution pouring in from power plants, factories and vehicles in the area.

And as if that weren't enough, the same pollutants that are enlarging their predators are in fact stymying the growth of the oysters themselves.

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The concern now is that as long as this trend continues, the oysters won't stand a chance within the next 75 to 100 years, if not sooner. And as those familiar with the bay know, if the oysters go, everything goes.

Besides playing a key role in the local ecosystem (blue crabs aren't the only to subsist on the creature), they act as a natural water filter. 

"One hundred years ago, the bay was crystal clear because they filtered it every three weeks, as opposed to every three years," Justine Baker Ries, a marine geologist at the University of North Carolina's Aquarium Research Center, told The Washington Post.

Which is exactly why Virginia and Maryland are fighting so hard to bring them back. 

Efforts have included only allowing people to harvest oysters on a rotating basis about every two years and promoting private aquaculture, which includes selling plots of riverbed or bay floor to oyster farmers for $1.50 an acre.

All told, Maryland has spent something along the lines of $50 million over the bast 16 years in oyster recovery and currently has in place harvesting bans on nearly a quarter of the bars where they grow. 

Unfortunately for the oysters, many of these same efforts have sought to restore crab numbers as well. And, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, it's working: numbers jumped from 207 million juvenile crabs in 2011 to 587 million a year later. 

At this point, researchers like Ries fear that as the water continues to serve as a dumping place, even an inadvertent one, for human-caused pollution, not only will the oyster crab face larger and hungrier predators, but more disease as well.

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