It’s so hot in California that live mussels are cooking to death in their shells

Another tragic consequence of climate change and the rising temperatures that come with it is playing out in California as mussels are being roasted to death inside their shells on the beach.

Mussels are intertidal creatures that attach themselves to rocks and thrive in coastal regions around the world. In California, they are prevalent up and down the coast and are a source of food for other animals, including humans.

It can get hot in California, but an unusual heat wave struck the state in June and the cool breeze mussels rely on during low tide disappeared, leaving them particularly vulnerable to higher temperatures.

One day during a routine walk up the coast, Bodega Marine Reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones witnessed a horrifying sight of mussels lining the coast that had been cooked to death inside their own shells because it was so hot.

“It’s one of the first things you see, coming down the rocks into the middle of the intertidal zone,” she told Bay Nature. “They were very visibly dead. In the past we’ve seen patches die, but in this case it was everywhere,” Sones said. “Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died.”

And that’s bad news because mussels are a foundation species, which means many other species that rely on them, particularly as a food source, are also negatively impacted by the die-off.

According to Northeastern University marine ecologist Brian Helmuth, a 75 degree day means a rock out of the water can reach a temperature of 105 degrees. It’s like a car in the hot sun with the windows up. It may be 70 or 80 degrees outside, but the temperature will be much higher inside the car.

Mussels are basically the kid left in the car in this situation as their black shells also absorb the heat.

“They were just literally cooking out there,” Helmuth said.

And it’s only going to get worse as climate change becomes more uncontrollable.

“The really insidious thing is there’s an optimal temperature where organisms do the best, and it’s really close to the temperature where they crash,” Helmuth continued. “We no longer think of climate change in the future when we do this kind of forecasting work. It’s how do you prepare for it now.”

University of British Columbia biologist Christopher Harley concurs.

“Small changes in temperature can produce big effects, and that helps us understand the system and apply what we learn to other habitats,” Harley wrote.

And if climate change wipes out intertidal species, Harley warned that the seafood industry will suffer.

“If they lose a crop once every five years, that hurts, but they stay in business,” Harley said. “If it starts happening once every three years, it is time to find a different career path.”

This die-off should be seen as a warning shot that we need to immediately take action to prevent and reverse climate change before we reach the point of no return, which is unfortunately closer than we think.

As temperatures rise, these die-offs are going to happen all the time and there will be nothing we can do about it. And if you like eating steamed mussels, you’re going to be very disappeared when that menu option is no longer available.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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