Climate Change Is Chipping Away at the Shellfish Industry

Oyster farmers, already suffering from losses caused by ocean acidification, are also on guard against bacteria that new research shows are increasing in lockstep with warming oceans. The IoT can help oyster producers address threats associated with warming waters in the short term, but the long-term fix will take more than technology.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Vibrio—particularly two types, Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus—are not being introduced due to climate change. They've always been present, though they proliferate when the water is warmest.

Ward says tests have shown that neither Vibrio vulnificus or Vibrio parahaemolyticus are present in the water at his farm or in the oysters he grows.

Hopefully, the technology that Ward is piloting will prove effective in keeping his customers' customers healthy, and his business growing. If it does, others in the industry might take the same or similar approaches to tracking the temperatures to which oysters are subjected.

"I'm looking for ways to make aquaculture more economically and environmentally viable," Ward told me back in April, "through better output and better tech."

The only lasting approach to stemming these economic threats—and innumerable other and far more severe threats related to climate change—is to reduce CO2 emissions through sweeping changes in how we produce and consume energy and other resources. But as businesses, governments and individuals work toward that goal, IoT technologies can serve as useful tools to help us monitor and track complex events and systems. Perhaps if oyster growers can show that more precise monitoring, through the use of IoT technology, can insure that their products are safe for human consumption, they will be able to avoid sterilizing oysters and maintain their farm-fresh advantage.

Note: An earlier version of this piece indicated that Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are present at Daniel Ward's farm. They are not and that has been corrected in the story. I also came away from my April interview with Ward with misunderstandings about the impact that temperature management plays in the growth of these bacteria when they are present in oysters, and have removed references to that. I regret these errors. --Mary Catherine O'Connor

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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