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Crustaceans Helping the Climate

Global warming is severely impacting the ocean. As the ocean, the largest carbon sink, absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, carbonic acid develops which increases the proton concentration of the ocean and thereby increases the acidity. This process has a negative impact on the ocean’s wildlife by breaking down calcifying organisms such as coral reefs.

However, scientists have found a potential savior: crustaceans. They are arthropods that generally have a hard exoskeleton made of chitin and/or calcium, such as crabs, krill, and lobsters. They can help in storing large amounts of carbon in the ocean and reduce the consequences of other species indirectly harming the ocean.

Crab on rocks
The shells of crabs are made of chitin, a polysaccharide commonly found in nature.

Their shells, made of calcium carbonate, can pick up inorganic carbon from the ocean and incorporate it into their shell structure so that the inorganic carbon doesn’t dissolve in the ocean over time and acidify the waters. These shells will eventually sink to the depths of the ocean where they are less likely to have as negative of an impact.

Another consequence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that it creates more ideal environments for algae to grow and bloom. When algae overpopulates, it can destroy river ecosystems by blocking our sunlight and releasing toxins, blocking photosynthesis for plants below it and ruining drinking water. Currently, people are working around this through clean-up initiatives.

However, crustaceans can consume high amounts of algae- roughly 60 to 100% of their body weight for filter feeders like krill. Overall, they help in reducing algae by roughly 85%, which is a huge improvement to allow plants to process the carbon dioxide in water and reduce dangerous concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Ground pill bugs, terrestrial crustaceans, can also help by consuming decaying plants faster to reduce the carbon dioxide emitted in their decomposition. By helping these organisms they grow, they can naturally reduce the effects of manmade pollution and problems- it is just our job to help them thrive and to reduce our footprint.

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