Coasts

New UN Report Documents Effects of Climate Change on Earth’s Oceans

Report illustrates the need to protect the seabirds and other wildlife that depend on the earth’s best asset: the ocean.

MONACO­ (Sept. 25, 2019) ­—The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report today outlining how climate change is negatively impacting the ocean at an accelerating rate. Without climate action, impacts will only get more severe.

“Right now, seabirds are imperiled - their populations have declined by 70 percent since 1950,” said Karen Hyun, Vice President of Coastal Conservation. “With already declining pop­ulations, climate change impacts like sea-level rise, warming oceans, and ocean acidification further threaten seabirds throughout every part of their life cycle.”

As the ocean absorbs excess heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the ocean warms and expands, which leads water levels to rise higher than normal, causing sea level rise. Additionally, excess dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean creates a more acidic underwater environment, known as ocean acidification. Ocean warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification all negatively affect seabirds.

Scien­tists predict that by 2100, sea levels will rise from one to eight feet, causing flooding that destroys habi­tats of both birds and people. Ocean warming causes oxygen and plankton declines, which are both crucial to seabirds’ main prey: for­age fish. As a result, forage fish populations are declining and moving. This causes seabirds that nest on land to travel farther and dive deeper to get their food, ex­pending more energy than they can afford to produce viable eggs and feed themselves and their chicks.

For­age fish also eat tiny plants and animals called phytoplankton and zooplank­ton, some of which have shells that can’t form in an acidic ocean. When plankton declines, forage fish popula­tions also decline, leaving seabirds left without enough food to ensure chicks grow into adults.

“Despite the challenges laid out in this report, there is hope if we act quickly,” said Hyun. “The ocean is Earth’s best asset, providing most of the oxygen we breathe and filtering out 90 percent of the carbon dioxide in the air. Reducing greenhouse emissions, protecting natural resources like wetlands and salt marshes that capture carbon, and establishing protected areas that provide habitats for marine life would all go a long way to protect our oceans.”

The IPCC report can be found here: https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/home/ 

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