By Chris Adams

At the campus of the University of California, Davis, professor Tessa Michelle Hill is studying the impact of ocean acidification on the world’s waters – and the plants and animals that live in them.

About 80 miles away, in Tomales Bay off the Pacific Ocean, Terry Sawyer is living it.

A co-founder of Hog Island Oyster Co., Sawyer and others in his industry are more than aware of the threat posed by the gradual increase of acid in the world’s waters. It’s fueled by the burning of fossil fuels and the massive amounts of carbon that are released. A good chunk of that is absorbed by the world’s oceans, making the water more acidic.

“The ocean is a tremendous sponge for carbon dioxide,” Hill said.

“How concerned am I?” asked Sawyer. “Let’s just say on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m about a 9.8.”

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Sawyer and Hill described the acidification phenomenon and how it has already impacted some West Coast oyster operations. They also talked about ongoing monitoring and mitigation efforts.

North of San Francisco at Hog Island (background, Twitter), the changing acid levels in the bay and estuaries impact the development of oysters in the larval stages.

At UC Davis, Hill (bio, Twitter) has been studying acidification from the earliest warnings of it nearly 20 years ago. Since then, people have started to devise mitigation strategies, possibly by using seagrass meadows or kelp forests. She’s also trying to determine which areas along the coasts are likely to experience the worst impacts of acidification, and which might be spared.

Since the first warnings of acidification, the oyster industry has been able to adapt – but not because the acid levels changed.

“The ocean conditions didn’t improve,” Hill said. “The management of hatcheries improved.”