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Carbon To Blame for Oversized Blue Crabs

Update Date: Apr 08, 2013 11:35 AM EDT

The use of genetic engineering or steroid enhancements to enlarge certain food products has been popular but highly controversial in the history of the food industry. Based on new research, it seems like certain animals, such as the blue crabs, have found another way of growing that does not require a lab setting. According to research, the side effects of pollution, particularly the emission of carbon dioxide, can lead to oversized blue crabs. Researchers found a link between the growing size of these crustaceans and the growing rate of carbon found in the waters. Although these crabs are growing bigger and faster without the help of scientists, this trend might not be safe for the marine environment.

Although carbon dioxide is emitted into the air, it dissolves into the water and saturates the oceans with carbon, which can change how these marine ecosystems work. Saturated waters become acidic, which is detrimental for certain marine animals, such as oysters and corals. These living creatures have calcium carbonate shells, which forms at a much slower rate when the waters become acidic, even if it is only by a small amount. Meanwhile, other creatures, particularly the blue crabs, thrive on the carbon in the water. Since blue crabs tend to prey on oysters, the oyster industry can be severely jeopardized. Researchers believe that if nothing is done to control the carbon levels in the waters, the blue crabs and other crustaceans will grow to the point where the underwater environment will become extremely unbalanced over the next 75 to 100 years.

"Higher levels of carbon in the ocean are causing oysters to grow slower, and their predators - such as blue crabs - to grow faster," said marine geologist, Justin Baker Ries from the University of North Carolina.

The fact that blue crabs might become stronger predators is worrisome because oysters are responsible for filtering water. Oysters are filter eaters, which means that they consume algae and help remove dirt and nitrogen. Due to their diet, oysters can effectively filter nearly 50 gallons of water per day. If oysters are consumed faster than they are created, the threat of water pollution can increase drastically. Not only will the blue crabs prey on oysters more easily, they will also affect the balance of other sea creatures, such as scallops. Research into the effects of carbon also reveals that other creatures, such as lobsters and shrimps will also grow abnormally faster, which would also disrupt the dynamics of the underwater environment.

Due to the possible dangers behind losing oysters, several states have started to promote the preservation of these sea creatures. Maryland alone has spent nearly $50 million within the past 16 years in protecting and saving the oyster population.

The findings were published in Geology. 

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