National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
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California Current

Acidification impedes shell development of plankton off the US West Coast


Shelled pteropods, microscopic free-swimming sea snails, are widely regarded as indicators for ocean acidification because research has shown that their fragile shells are vulnerable to increasing ocean acidity. Sometimes called sea butterflies because of how they appear to flap their “wings” as they swim through the water column, fat-rich pteropods are an important food source for organisms ranging from other plankton to juvenile salmon to whales. They make shells by fixing calcium carbonate in ocean water to form an exoskeleton. 


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