Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a $4.2 million award for a four-year study on Dungeness crab and krill that will bring together researchers and experts from coastal tribes, public universities and federal agencies from Northern California to Washington.

Climate change has been exacerbating existing marine environmental stressors through changes in temperatures, ocean chemistry and seasonal cycles.

The ocean absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere, primarily from human activity. Increases in the gas in the ocean have led to rising acidity. Studies have shown as acidity rises, shellfish struggle to maintain hardy shells, their growth slows, and death rates rise.
There’s plenty of research and real-world evidence that confirms climate change is hurting marine species, said Jack Barth, executive director of the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State University.

The blob, a marine heat wave that wreaked havoc on Northwest fisheries during 2015 and 2016, led to seabird die-off, poor salmon returns and dozens of closures.

“We’ve had these catastrophic events like the heat blob and things that are showing us that things are changing,” Hagen said, “and they’re not changing incrementally.”

But scientists still don’t have a good handle on how organisms are affected by multiple stressors. What happens when crabs are faced with algal blooms, low oxygen and warm water?

Researchers hope to start to figure that out in the next four years.

They plan to map out where the lowest concentrations of oxygen lie and where the warm water is, and find where these stressors intersect to make life even more hostile for the species, said Richard Feely, senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

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