Society's endless hunger for fossil fuels is already messing up our weather and polluting both seas and skies. But if a new Swedish study is any indication, it's also about to screw with the deliciousness of our food.
The University of Gothenburg study, published in November in the Journal of Shellfish Research, found that shrimp raised in more acidic waters taste worse than those raised in waters more similar to ocean conditions today.
"This is the first scientific study that has really related ocean acidification to some of what we call market quality in a seafood," Sarah Cooley, science outreach manager with the Ocean Conservancy, told VICE News. "What we have not done yet is connect the changes in growth and survival that we see in some marine species from acidification to the things that consumers are interested in. This is something that is worthy of a lot of attention, I think."
Oceans absorb about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and deforestation. As concentrations of carbon dioxide increase, ocean water becomes more acidic. In more acidic waters shellfish, like shrimp, cannot grow their protective shells and often die before they're old enough to reproduce.
The Gothenburg researchers collected female Northern shrimp from Swedish waters and kept them in tanks of differing pH balances for three weeks. One tank had a pH of 8.0, the current average global pH. The other was a slightly more acidic 7.5, a level the ocean is expected to reach by the end of the century.
At the end of the three weeks, they removed and cooked more than 30 shrimp — under the watchful eye of a professional chef — and fed them to local shrimp aficionados who ate the shellfish about two times per month.
While they found the shrimp had similar textures, the volunteers rated the more acidic shrimp lower on both taste and appearance.
"Taste is a product of all of the chemical compounds and things that are stored, the fats and the sugars and all these different minerals and things like that," Cooley told VICE News. "Certainly these balances seem to have changed in the shrimp that are raised under high carbon dioxide environment. They were stressed."
Lower pH also increased the shrimps' mortality rates by 63 percent.
"Shrimp aren't standing between humanity and starvation, but many, many people really enjoy eating shrimp," Cooley told VICE News. "They could stand to see a change in that activity because of this."
Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro
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