Warming oceans could have negative effects on marine life and coastal communities | News

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Project Citizen: Climate 360, a collaboration between a diverse group of students from across the United States dedicated to reporting on climate change.

Jade Cave has lived near the ocean since her family moved to Fiji, a small island in the South Pacific, when she was 6 years old.

“I was raised by a community of people whose history and culture is directly tied to the ocean,” Cave said. “It’s a fundamental aspect of the identity of the country that raised me.”

Now 17 and residing in Cape Town, South Africa, Cave has continued to observe the impacts of the ocean on her life.

“When I look at the ocean…I see coastal communities all over the Global South whose life, culture, history and existence takes place in this water,” Cave said.

But this water changes.

The global average sea surface temperature has increased by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit per decade over the past 100 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Morgan Kelly, a biology professor at Louisiana State University, said warming oceans are caused by two related issues: the ocean absorbs heat from the air, and it absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. .

The ocean has absorbed more than 93% of greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s, according to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As the water warms, it has the potential to upset the very balance of ocean life, both for the marine animals that live in the waters and for the people that inhabit the coasts.

With the exception of mammals that live in the ocean, most marine life is cold blooded, so the body temperature of marine organisms is directly correlated to the temperature of the surrounding water.

“It affects everything,” Kelly said. “Every process in every organism is affected by temperature. Every chemical reaction goes faster when temperatures are warmer.

This has tangible effects on what happens inside the cells of marine animals, Kelly said.

Sometimes this leads marine organisms to burn energy faster than they can consume food. Other times it leads marine life to eat more food, which can have impacts downstream in the food web.

“When temperatures get extreme, very high, what can happen is that really hot temperatures can actually cause proteins in a cell to break down, and that may be one of the ways high temperatures can result in death,” Kelly said.

Warmer water also contains less oxygen. At the same time, sailors must consume more oxygen to keep up with accelerated cellular processes at warmer temperatures, which can lead to death.

Although Kelly acknowledges that extreme temperatures can lead to death in some cases, she said many ocean species will experience population shifts or move to more hospitable conditions.

“One of the things that’s happening with warming is that we’re getting movements of different groups of species that live near the equator towards the poles,” Kelly said.

This means that some warmer water species could see an increase in population and habitat availability.

“The species that benefit from it, the species that suffer from it, really depend a lot on its range of temperature tolerances,” Kelly said. “If you were to study what species are present at a particular place on the coast, you would find that some species are increasing and others are decreasing,” she said.

These changes could pose problems for communities that depend on fishing as a reliable source of protein and income.

“We built our cities and our societies and the way we get food based on the climate of old,” Kelly said.

According to a 2019 article published in Science Advances, marine fisheries are essential food producers that support food security, human health, and jobs around the world.

The 2019 study indicates that the consequences of climate change can no longer be completely avoided in certain regions, such as Africa, Asia and Oceania. But if mitigation happens quickly, he said, some negative effects could be avoided.

The global average ocean temperature will likely increase by 1.8 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to the 2013 IPCC report.

Cave knew she had to do her part to protect and secure the waters.

She was 16 when she founded Ocean Location in 2019, a non-profit organization to mobilize and educate younger generations to champion ocean conservation. She said the organization focuses on three levels: to inform, inspire and inspire young people to take action for ocean conservation.

“I feel like when we look at issues like environmental conservation, ocean action and climate change, it’s daunting,” Cave said. “And we, especially as young people, feel like we’re too small to make a difference, or that the problem is just too huge and insurmountable to solve.”

But Cave said it was important for young people to remember they can make a difference and are not fighting alone.

She recognizes the importance of providing concrete and meaningful ways to solve problems so that people her age feel less hopeless in dealing with the drastic impacts of climate change.

Ocean Location provides ocean-relevant content and resources and highlights the work of activists and organizations committed to the effort to secure the oceans.

Additionally, Cave’s nonprofit posts links to petitions to sign, opportunities to get involved in campaigns, and more.

“We live in times of crisis,” Cave said. “Climate change threatens not only our oceans, but so much of our lives and our future that we can’t afford to have people who want to make things change like they can’t.”

“The ocean cannot be separated from humanity,” she said. “The climate cannot be separated from humanity.”

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