Moving a bus stop 20 metres causes a local storm around our way so the concept of change on the scale that involves our oceans and all marine life is just mind blowing and too big to understand for a lot of us.
Dr. Ben Halpern, a keen surfer and research fellow at University of California, together with a global group of colleagues have been trying to understand what it means for the near future up to 2100 and have just published their findings in Nature Climate Change.
For surfers and anyone else who loves the ocean it’s worth taking the trouble to understand the issue which, in short, is the pace of temperature change in the ocean is greater now than the pace at which marine species can adapt to it.
So as temperatures changes marine biology changes too. A mixture of temperature and environment tolerance and food chain dependence means marine life are very sensitive to the ocean temperature and follow the temperature changes to survive. So as our waters heat species move, but at different paces. Coral obviously takes a long time to move and adapt whilst more mobile and some would say predatory species move in and dominate, exterminating the competitors.
Nobody really understands the consequences of multi-species invasion and extinction and we even had to invent an expression, trophic cascades, to describe this food chain disruption. Ben Halpern, exclusively and patiently explained the issues in a little more detail to Drift.
“There is already a lot of inertia in climate change such that we can’t turn things around immediately. But in our research we looked at expected consequences to marine species under two different climate scenarios, one that is sort of ‘business as usual’ that will lead to pretty extreme climate change over the next century, and one that is based on strong action now to slow climate change. The differences are pretty stark at the end of the century, and so even modest efforts now to slow climate change will have a big effect down the line.”
“What’s happening now and is predicted to happen in terms of species shifting the locations where they exist in the oceans is happening far faster than almost any time in the history of the earth. Many species will be facing suites of species they’ve never experienced before at a rate of change they are not used to.”
Commercially caught fish species are moving into deeper waters to keep in cooler water
“Many changes have already happened in the waters around the UK. Commercially caught fish species are moving into deeper waters to keep in cooler water. Phytoplankton species (the base of the food chain in the ocean) have moved where they exist by 10s to 100s of kilometers already. Intertidal barnacles have moved their range north up the coast. And so on. People may not notice many of these changes as they happen over years to decades, but that is really fast in geological time, and if they are species we care about (because we eat them, or like to go tidepooling to see them), then these shifts in location can have a dramatic impact on our livelihoods and wellbeing.”
Ben also explained why it matters to our surfing fraternity and what we can do about it:
“I love to surf. I moved to Santa Barbara 17 years ago and was immediately hooked. This stretch of coast has wonderful surf breaks, and some world class ones (like Rincon). I think surfers in general really care about the ocean and do a lot to take care of it, although we can always do a lot more. It can seem pretty hard for any one person to make a difference about climate change, since the cause is global and the solutions need to be global too.”
“But politicians and corporations aren’t going to make the big changes that are needed to really make a difference unless we as individuals demand it. Surfers are a powerful political voice for the ocean because we are in it, all the time, in a way that few other people are. When we speak about caring about the ocean, we are (sometimes literally) from the ocean. That gives our voices greater strength and relevance to politicians. We need to use that voice to express the need to make big changes to slow and ultimately stop the pollution that leads to climate change.”
Changes in marine biodiversity will almost certainly be the tip of the iceberg (should there be any icebergs left)
Changes in marine biodiversity will almost certainly be the tip of the iceberg (should there be any icebergs left). It will matter on a massive scale with population movement, economic and political disruption, weather changes and land rearrangement due to sea rise changes. It’s not that all the climate change mob are always right and may even be wrong about the causes. But we all have a duty to understand the issues, the implications, voice opinion and try and ensure that those in power know that we care. In the meantime change will be ignored by those with vested interests, slow to our eyes but very certainly cruel and relentless.
Words Mike Harrington