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Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to host ‘Mollusks in Peril’ forum in 2016

By Staff | Jun 5, 2015

With much attention being generated internationally on Earth’s ever-changing climate and the effects it’s taking on the biosphere, bringing awareness to the public is a vital job of scientists worldwide.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel will be doing its part next year, when the staff will host the “Mollusks in Peril” 2016 forum, a 2 1/2-day event which will bring together some of the country’s foremost experts on current large-scale threats to molluscan populations.

The forum will be held May 22-24, 2016, at South Seas Resort on Captiva Island and is the first of its kind to fully feature this topic.

“We want to bring awareness to people that this does matter to you and me,” said National Shell Museum’s Marketing and Events Manager Katie Ball. “This is our area of expertise and this is what we do.”

Much like other climate-changing induced events around the world, the effect of it is being seen on the mollusk population in the oceans. Mollusks are the second most diverse group of animals on Earth, just behind insects.

“The oceanic foot webs are being affected by the climate change,” said National Shell Museum’s Science Director and Curator Jose Leal, Ph.D. “This is happening on a world-wide basis and it’s becoming harder and harder to accept.

“Unhealthy molluscan populations are an indication that the balance of life on our planet is in jeopardy.”

The goal of the “Mollusks in Peril” forum is to start discussion and awareness on a large-scale environmental disturbances. The mollusk is one of the many frontline species which can be studied on the effects of human-induced environmental change.

“We want to present the large-scale effects, the big picture,” Ball added.

Members of the forum’s Scientific Advisory Committee consists of Leal, Nina Bednarsek, Laura Parker, Robert Cowie, C. Mark Eakin and Richard Feeley. All are Ph.D.s in their respective fields.

Two of the keynote speakers at the forum will be Bednarsek and Parker.

Bednarsek is a research associate at the School of Marine and Environment Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle.

She also was on the National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

She has been investigating the effects of ocean acidification on the shells of pteropods (sea butterflies), tiny mollusks which live in the water column of all oceans.

In her findings, the sea butterflies’ shell has been effected in a way that the shell is thinner, resulting from a higher carbon dioxide count, which in essence acidifies the water and makes the mollusk work harder to form its shell.

The higher amounts of carbon dioxide are a direct result from the elevated levels in the atmosphere.

“She is the go-to person on this subject,” Dr. Leal said.

Parker is a member of the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, Australia, where she joined the Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts on Coastal Cities under the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Indigenous Scheme.

She has been studying the impacts of ocean acidification on oysters, including the effects on the development of their early life-history stages, on the physiology of adults, as well as their capacity for acclimation or adaptation over multiple generations.

Her research also includes the effects of ocean acidification (caused by higher levels of carbon dioxide) on the molluscan larvae, which show extreme sensitivity to acidification.

Although there will be speakers throughout the 2 1/2 days of the forum, Ball and Leal hope that the splintered off discussions by attendees will produce helpful knowledge and potential solutions to the ever-growing problem the Earth faces currently.

“We want to take a leadership role on this topic,” Leal said. “This is an international topic.”

The hope is also to draw people worldwide for the forum, with both experts and citizen scientists attending, thus spreading more awareness.

“We also welcome the locals to attend,” Ball said. “We have highly-educated people who care about the environment on Sanibel. But we are also marketing the forum internationally, as well.”

To learn more about the “Mollusks in Peril” 2016 forum, visit the National Shell Museum’s website on the event at www.mollusksinperil.org.