Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it.
~Tony Blair

Another sad example of how humankind has altered the ocean environment — exhausting the limits of an ecosystem’s endurance. The iconic coastal California mussel may be the casualty this time.

A recent study published in the journal Science predicts that by mid-century, western coastal waters will become sufficiently acidic to hinder shell formation by mussels, oysters and corals. These waters are particularly fecund because winds that blow surface water out to sea allow water laden with nutrients to swell near the shore. This upwelling renders those waters especially vulnerable to ocean acidification. Increased acidity levels develop in the waters as they absorb carbon dioxide which accelerate as trends of anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to soar. Ocean acidification has been dubbed the osteoporosis of the seas.

What does this have to do with our cherished shellfish? As carbon dioxide dissolves in sea water, saturation levels of the mineral calcium carbonate, a critical building block for shells and skeletons, decreases. Undersaturation can reach perilous levels depriving these sea creatures of the basic component needed to develop and maintain their shells. According to these researchers (who were using optimistic models), by 2050 west coast seawater will no longer have sufficient saturation states to maintain adequate calcium carbonate levels. This places mussel populations at serious risk. This is indeed a dire finding given that mussels provide habitat, refuge, and food for some 300 other species.

A correlative finding was reached in a later study conducted at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. Researchers there noted that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that climate scientists attribute to human activity have resulted in increased ocean acidification. This team focused on mussel larvae, which swim in the open ocean before settling down on the shoreline and attaching to reefs as adults. As with many other marine creatures, mussel larvae are more vulnerable to environmental stresses.

Larvae were grown in the lab at present acid levels, levels projected for the end of the century if carbon dioxide emissions continue, and at levels which might be reached if emissions are reduced. The shells were measurably thinner and the mussels’ bodies smaller at projected acid levels.

Other researchers have sung the same refrain: if human actions continue unabated, oceans will continue to absorb rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide which causes ocean acidification whose corrosive effect ultimately threatens to decimate certain shellfish species.

Do we welcome such a sea change?

As always, follow the cleaning and culling ritual. Thoroughly scrub the mussels and rinse with several changes of cold water. If an open mussel closes when you press on it, it is good. If the mussel remains open, you should discard it. Pull off beards (the tuft of fibers that attach each mussel to the shell) cutting them at the base with a paring knife. Do not beard the mussels more that a few minutes in advance of the cooking process or they will die and spoil. Set bearded mussels aside.

MUSSELS & CHORIZO

1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 Spanish chorizo sausages, diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 lbs mussels, cleaned
1 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 t fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 C dry white wine
1/2 C fish stock or clam juice
2 T unsalted butter

1 t fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Roughly ground black pepper
Sea salt

In large, heavy Dutch oven or deep sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium and add chorizo, garlic and shallots. Sauté until shallots soften and become transparent, about 4-5 minutes. Add mussels, thyme, oregano and tomatoes. Stir well.

Add wine and stock to pan. Cover, and cook over medium heat until the mussels open, about 6-8 minutes. Uncover and simmer for a few minutes to reduce liquid by half. Add butter, and stir vigorously into the sauce.

Transfer mixture to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and pepper, and salt to taste. Serve with toasted or grilled slices of artisanal bread rubbed with fresh garlic cloves.

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How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.
~Albert Einstein

While I am on a lemon grass binge, let’s add some coconut milk, rice and peace…

Indonesia, the most vast of archipelago states, is bespeckled with over 17,500 islands in the Indian ocean, covering a maritime area of some 3.1 million square miles. Home to the world’s fourth largest populace and still growing, the land mass of Indonesia alone is three times that of Texas. Put those numbers in your lone star stetson and smoke ’em, George.

And here, behold coral’s homeland, the marine biodiversity hall of fame, and for some shame. The Coral Triangle — a stunning, yet sadly imperiled, underwater Eden.

The Coral Triangle has been aptly dubbed the global epicenter of marine species diversity and remains of paramount concern to conservationists and commoners alike. This fecund region of the seas covers a deltoid area equivalent to one-half of the United States and contains more than one-third of all the world’s coral reefs. An evolutionary hot spot due to the combination of light, high water temperature, and strong, nourishing currents from the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The seasonal influx of nutrients from these deep ocean upwellings along with equatorial sunshine and warm seas results in an abundance of plankton. So, it teems with more than 600 species of reef-building coral (compared to only 60 in the entire Caribbean) and over 3,000 species of reef fish. Sheltering nearly 75% of the world’s mangrove species, 45% of seagrass species, 58% of tropical marine mollusks, five species of sea turtles and at least 22 species of marine mammals also occur in the region, the Coral Triangle is an astounding display of diversity condensed into less than 1% of the world ocean’s surface area. This melting pot of biodiversity harbors species that appear nowhere else on Earth, including 97 species of reef fishes endemic to Indonesia, and more than 50 in the Philippines.

With this resplendent beauty comes the beast, as coral reefs and other marine habitats within this region are severely threatened by human activities. The most pervasive and perfidious threats are overfishing and baleful fishing practices, including blast fishing and fishing with poisons, which torment broad stretches of reefs in the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Sedimentation and pollution associated with overpopulation, coastal development and land use also put the region’s delicate reefs and marine habitats at risk. To worsen matters, acidification of the surrounding seas is occuring due their absorption of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. More acidic oceans render it more difficult for coral to produce the necessary calcium carbonate shells, diminishing oceanic ecosystems and the existence of coral reefs.

Exploring the manifold cultural, ethnic, regional and historical underpinnings of Indonesian cuisine is for another day, another plug. For now, allow me to at least briefly touch on one ingredient in this dish. Daun salam (Syzygium polyanthum), sometimes mistakenly called Indian bay leaves, are leaves from a deciduous tree in the myrtle family which grows wild in the Southeast Asian peninsula, Indonesia and Suriname. Reaching heights of over 60 feet, this tropical tree has spreading branches and simple, aromatic leaves. The Indonesian phrase daun salam means “peace leaf.”

COCONUT & LEMON GRASS RICE

2 C jasmine rice

1 1/2 C water
1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 thick stalks of fresh lemon grass (bottom 1/3), bruised, and tied in a bundle
1″ slice of ginger
1 t sea salt
8 whole dried daun salam leaves (or 2 whole dried bay leaves)

Roasted peanuts, chopped (for garnish)

In a large heavy saucepan, rinse rice several times with fresh cold water, gently swirling with your fingers. Once the water is no longer cloudy and fairly clear, drain completely.

Add water, coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger, salt, and daun salam leaves. Stir some to combine.

Place the pan over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice from scorching on the bottom. Bring to a vigorous boil and allow to continue to boil for less than thirty seconds, still stirring. Reduce the heat to the low and cover tightly. Continue cooking at low for 15 minutes. Resist all temptation to peek by removing the lid as that would allow essential cooking steam to escape.

Remove from heat and continue to steam, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Discard the lemon grass, ginger and daun salam leaves. Gently fluff the cooked rice with a spoon. Mound the rice in a deep serving bowl, and serve warm. Garnish individually with chopped peanuts.