THE LOCATION: Eastern Estuaries
THE STORY: Protecting East Coast Oysters
Mike Martinsen has earned his living from the sea since he was just 11 years old. Back then, he would grab clams with his toes and sell them to his Long Island neighbors. He's had "heydays," when money was great and "maydays," when he wasn't sure how to feed his family. After diseases killed off local oysters, he bought and sold lobster. When they disappeared, he found work on fishing boats.
Photo: Gail Simons Mike Martinsen hauling in a catch.
After earning a college degree later in life, Martinsen and a colleague started the Montauk Shellfish Company in 2009. The small aquaculture business has expanded every year and chefs can't get enough of their Montauk Pearl oysters. But Martinsen worries about a threat that has already hit West Coast oyster growers: ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel pollution.
Quite simply, the 41-year-old can't afford to have another species crash on him.
"We're all in here. It would be devastating, especially at this stage in life. My kids are almost teenagers, and we need this to happen," he says. "That's why we need the research, so at the very least we can know what's coming and see if we can curb it."
In many U.S. East Coast estuaries, global fossil fuel emissions and local pollution from farms, lawns and septic systems are causing the region's waters to acidify more quickly than expected. In the lower Chesapeake Bay, waters are acidifying three times more quickly than the open ocean. Marine creatures are getting a double-dose of carbon dioxide from two different sources, which can cause more damage than either problem alone.
Credit: Illustrations of sea life © B. Guild Gillespie / www.chartingnature.com
Credit: Illustration © B. Guild Gillespie / www.chartingnature.com
The Long Island Sound shellfish industry at a glance:
- $36 million per year on average comes from clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops