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Report: Climate Change Threatens Wildlife, People of Chesapeake

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Friday, September 9, 2016   

RICHMOND, Va. – Climate change is already hitting wildlife and communities on the East Coast, according to a new report. Conservationists say its effects on the Chesapeake Bay mean Virginia has to cut carbon emissions.

The National Wildlife Federation research looks at wildlife and recreation economies on the eastern seaboard.

Mariah Davis, the Hampton Roads organizer with the Virginia Conservation Network, said it found the bay is especially vulnerable, a fragile mix of salt and fresh water. She said rising seas and sinking land could mean bay waters more than two feet higher by the end of the century.

"Saltwater and brackish water is starting to get up into people's wells, so it's really important that we address a carbon-reduction plan in Virginia," she said.

Some allies of the fossil-fuel industries in the General Assembly have argued climate change is a hoax. The GA stripped funding to implement the EPA's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution. Davis said they hope to reverse that next session.

The report said half a billion pounds of seafood come from the Chesapeake Bay every year, driving nearly 35,000 local jobs in related industries, like harvesting and processing oysters.

But, according to Karen Forget, the executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW, a lot of hard work put into restoring the bay's oyster beds could be reversed as climate change makes the oceans more acidic, in much the same way an oyster shell will dissolve in vinegar.

"In the Lynnhaven River, we have some areas that are now open that had been closed since the 1930s," she said. "It's really been an economic boom, but all of that could go the other direction really quickly."

The report said climate change will mean warmer ocean waters. Chris Moore, Virginia senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said given the excess nutrients in the bay, that's likely to mean more harmful algae in the water.

"More warm waters throughout the year would mean that not only would the algal blooms start earlier in the year, but unfortunately, persist later in the year as well," he said.

The National Wildlife Federation's full report can be found here.


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