Stone Crabs hurt by acidic oceans

The first study on Florida stone crabs and ocean acidification was published this month by a MoteMarine Laboratory scientist and offers clues for relieving environmental stress on these tasty and economically valuable crabs.

The study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology provides the first evidence that stone crab embryos develop more slowly and fewer eggs hatch to larvae (babies) in controlled laboratory systems mimicking ocean acidification (OA) — a chemically induced decrease in ocean water pH at global to local levels that is being driven by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The impact of OA to marine and estuarine species and habitats is worsened when combined with the impacts of nutrient-rich coastal runoff, sewage water inputs and loss of wetlands due to coastal development. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century.

Most stone crab fishing occurs in coastal habitats susceptible to OA along with other potential stressors including reduced oxygen levels and harmful algal blooms. The stone crab industry — centered along west Florida — was valued in 2015 at $36.7 million, but since 2000 the average annual commercial harvest has declined by about 25 percent.

Mote scientists are studying stone crabs under various environmental conditions, starting with acidified water, to help resource managers sustain this critical fishery.

“By identifying stone crabs’ susceptibility to ocean acidification throughout their embryonic and larval development, we can better understand whether the species will be able to tolerate and eventually adapt to the levels of ocean acidification projected for our coastal oceans in the future,” said Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Philip Gravinese. Gravinese authored the new paper to disseminate his doctoral research, which was conducted through Florida Institute of Technology in 2012 at Mote’s campus on Summerland Key, Florida. “Stone crabs brood their eggs in coastal habitats, and their larvae hatch and develop into juvenile crabs — essential steps toward producing the next generation of adult crabs whose claws will be harvested. These early life stages are sometimes more sensitive to changing environmental conditions.”

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