Harley and Ryan Crim artificially enhanced carbon dioxide levels in salt water, mimicking the acidification that's occurring in oceans. When the pair pumped up the CO2 from 400 to 1800 parts per million, 40 percent of the larvae died and the survivors struggled to develop healthy shells.
According to Harley, hatcheries dealing with more common shellfish, such as mussels and clams, are facing the same problems promoting shell development.
"They're all having trouble," says Harley, who's signed non-disclosure agreements forbidding him from revealing the tricks hatcheries are using to manage their increasingly carbonated intake water.
"It's important to contrast this with global warming," Harley says of the ocean's acidification. "Because with global warming, an animal can just move toward the poles, but with acidification, there's no place to hide."
The study was conducted in collaboration with a small abalone hatchery that hoped to reinvigorate wild abalone populations and determine whether its plan to produce cultured abalone for restaurant kitchens was viable.