Experts Warn Climate Change is 'Changing the Contours' of World's Oceans

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Experts Warn Climate Change is 'Changing the Contours' of World's Oceans

'Warmer waters—along with rising seas, coastal droughts and ocean acidification—are already putting people, businesses, and communities at risk.'

Climate change is not the only human-caused threat facing the world's oceans. (Photo: Monique Dinkel/flickr/cc)

As climate change continues to put ocean ecosystems and the communities that rely upon them at risk, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week outlined a new "Climate Science Strategy" meant to increase fisheries' resilience against global warming.

"NOAA just announced that for the globe the month of July—and actually, the entire year so far—was the warmest ever recorded, driven largely by record warm ocean temperatures," said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. "Those warmer waters—along with rising seas, coastal droughts and ocean acidification—are already putting people, businesses, and communities at risk."

The strategy aims to increase "the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information" in order to mitigate global warming's impact on marine and coastal industries.

That impact is already being seen, noted Richard Merrick, NOAA Fisheries director of scientific programs and chief science advisor. "We are already seeing marine animals change where they live to deal with changing climate," he said. "We're even seeing population numbers of some species drop."

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As Lisa Suatoni, a senior scientist in the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted in a blog post about the strategy on Thursday, "climate change and ocean acidification have already changed the contours of the fishing industry in our country."

She wrote: "American lobster fisheries in Connecticut and New York have nearly vanished due to warming waters and increased incidence of disease. Some scientists believe that rising temperatures have thwarted the recovery of the long-overfished Atlantic cod in the Northeast. Rising acidity along the coast of the Pacific Northwest has caused massive die-offs of oyster larvae. As fish move northward and into deeper waters as a result of rising water temperatures, historic fisheries will fade and new ones will arise in coastal fishing communities around the United States."

NOAA's move comes as the U.S. government makes public its desire for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to devote more research to the question of how climate change affects the world's oceans. According to the Guardian on Thursday, the U.S. will raise the issue at United Nations climate talks in Paris later this year.

"In my judgment, more attention needs to be paid to the climate change effects upon the ocean areas of the world," David Balton, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries at the State Department, told the Guardian. "We need to keep pushing up until the Paris conference and beyond. Ultimately, we need to change the way we live if we’re to keep the planet in the safe zone."

Climate change is not the only human-caused threat facing the world's oceans.

The Scotland Herald reported Wednesday on a study that found up to 80 tons of microplastic waste entering the sea every year from use of these cosmetics in the UK alone.

Meanwhile, a fleet of about 30 vessels connected with the Netherlands-based Ocean Cleanup returned on Sunday from a month-long expedition in which they sampled the concentration of plastic in the Pacific in preparation for a large-scale cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is scheduled to begin by 2020. What they found was troubling. 

"I've studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr. Julia Reisser, lead oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup. "With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic."

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