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Climate change negatively affecting San Francisco Bay’s oyster population

A new report released by UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory and the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve provides evidence that oysters are dying off in the San Francisco Bay. Climate change and the creation of atmospheric rivers appears to be at fault.

The LA Times first covered the study’s results, the highlight of which was a massive oyster die-out in 2011. An extremely wet winter meant more snow and subsequent snow melt, which trickled down to San Francisco’s Bay. At its peak, 220,000 cubic feet of water rushed into the bay per second.

The resulting diluting of the Bay’s saltwater levels had disastrous results on oyster populations, as studied by scientist near China Camp State Park. Prior to the wet winter, the Bodega Marine Lab reported 180 oysters per square foot in that region. By July 2011, almost all of them were dead.

The reason: oysters close up their shells when the water around them doesn’t meet their salty specifications. But they can’t stay closed forever and stay healthy—after eight days they either suffocate or build up too much waste, and perish.

The good news is that China Camp’s oyster population appeared to have recovered in 2013, though they hadn’t reached pre-2011 sizes. But with climate change not decreasing, it may only be a matter of time before a wet winter wreaks havoc on the Bay again.

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