It's no secret that ocean acidification is wreaking havoc on the corals, sea stars, sharks and others that live beneath the waves. But now new research shows that this phenomenon is hitting closer to home and threatening US coastal communities, too.

The acidity of the world's oceans has increased by about 30 percent over the past several decades. As harmful greenhouse gases are pumped into the Earth's atmosphere, the oceans are absorbing more carbon dioxide (CO2). This causes a chemical reaction that makes seawater more acidic, especially in colder regions. That's because cold waters can dissolve more CO2.

So fishing communities in southern New England, the Pacific Northwest, coastal Alaska and parts of Maine, for example, will likely take a big hit as valuable mollusks such as oysters and clams start feeling the effects of more acidic waters.

"Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs," Julie Ekstrom, who led the study, told

Ekstrom and her team of marine scientists are especially worried about regions including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana that are the most economically dependent on their fishing industry.

"We looked at all the coasts around the United States. There are more places vulnerable than we previously thought," Ekstrom told Discovery News. "That said, every region has a unique set of factors that makes it vulnerable. Understanding what makes you vulnerable is useful to guide how you will adapt."

A variety of marine creatures, including those mentioned, are already impacted by ocean acidification. But according to this research, shellfish larvae are the most at risk. That's because the animal doesn't have much protection until it develops its shell and becomes an adult, and acidic conditions could interfere with shell formation (ie- calcification). Fisheries that depend on shellfish farming may have to adapt by building more on-shore nurseries or harvesting other kinds of shellfish, for example.

A total of 16 out of the 23 coastal bioregions in the United States are highly vulnerable to ocean acidification, and are expected to feel the effects by 2030. And with the rate of greenhouse gas emissions showing so significant signs of slowing down, US coastal communities may be devastated if they can't learn to adapt.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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