New Jersey is on a list of the most at-risk states due to a threat known as ocean acidification. According to a new report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the phenomenon could be negatively affecting a crucial segment of sea life and, in turn, New Jersey's economy.

Maisie Paterson, Getty Images

In the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, scientists suggested oceans are absorbing an inordinate amount of carbon dioxide as a result of more than a century of burning fossil fuels. That uptick in carbon dioxide equates to higher acidity levels in the water and causes a chemistry shift in which compounds such as carbonate become less available.

"Carbonate is important because it's a building block of seashells," said NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, an author of the report. "Everything that lives in the ocean, that builds shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate, has a harder time building their homes."

It's a particular concern for shelled mollusks such as oysters, scallops and clams. The report said the population of the species is at risk.

According to Suatoni, ocean acidification harms not only marine creatures, but humans as well, through a loss of jobs.

"Many, many people make their living by the ocean and by the vitality of the ocean," she said.

The southern counties of New Jersey ranked No. 2 nationwide for economic dependence on shellfish harvests. The report said the harvests brought New Jersey an average of $117 million annually over the past ten years. In addition, 77 percent of southern New Jersey commercial fisheries revenues come from shelled mollusks.

On top of the economic threat, the report said another reason New Jersey is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification is the lack of effort in addressing the issue.

"States such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana have minimal research and monitoring for ocean acidification and little government support to reduce their risk," the report stated.

Gef Flimlin, a marine extension agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, said New Jersey could benefit from setting up 3-4 spots along the coast for regular pH monitoring.

"We don't know enough about what the trend is here in New Jersey," he said.

Suatoni said policymakers can also choose to invest in breeding strains of shellfish that are resistant to heightened acidity.

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