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WALPOLE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A special state commission began studying a problem that marine scientists say poses a real threat to Maine Friday. The problem is called ocean acidification.

Scientists say increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which are blamed for climate change, are also causing ocean water to become more acidic. And researchers say Maine shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels, are especially vulnerable.

At Mook Sea Farms in Walpole, owner Bill Mook says he has seen a change in the water from the Damariscotta River, which is pumped through the oyster hatchery. Mook says the pH level of that water has dropped, meaning it has become more acidic.

The scientists say laboratory tests show that lower pH levels can hurt the growth and shell development of baby shellfish in farms and in the wild. Mook says he has "made changes to the chemistry" of the water in the hatchery, and says that's cured the problem for the time being.

Mook and other members of the new state commission say they need to take the threat seriously, and need more information about the extent of the threat and the rate at which acidification is increasing.

The Commission is supposed to come up with ideas for how Maine can handle the expected problems of ocean acidification and avoid serious harm to the shellfish industry.

Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), who wrote the original legislation, says researchers are looking at potential localized remedies, including planting more eel grass or kelp near shellfish beds, so the plants will absorb more of the carbon dioxide. More widespread solutions, he says, will require major global changes to reduce carbon emissions.

The state commission is scheduled to report its findings by mid-December.

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