A deep dive into the impacts of climate change on our oceans.
The oceans play a critical role in regulating the earth's climate and are often overlooked ecosystems during climate change discussions. Climate change is having devastating effects on the ocean, and as the world's largest ecosystem, it covers 70% of the planet.
If it wasn't for the ocean, the world would already be uninhabitable. This is because the ocean has protected us from the worst side effects by already absorbing more than 90% of the heat generated by humans. If this heat had gone into the atmosphere, the global average temperature would have already increased by 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much heat the oceans can absorb, and they are beginning to reach their threshold. We have a lot to thank the oceans for, and it's about time we show the oceans the respect that it deserves.
Throughout this article, we will look into specific consequences of ocean warming and what effects it is having on both humans and wildlife.
As the oceans continue to warm, it affects the marine life that lives in them. Ocean warming is causing coral bleaching and mass migration of marine species. This migration is caused by the species having to search for the correct conditions for feeding and spawning. This can directly affect the development and growth of most fish species and cephalopods (octopus and squids). These terrible side effects devastate the 3 billion people who consume fish and marine animals as their main source of protein. Tourism will be impacted, and for many communities, this is their main source of revenue.
The bleaching of reefs is directly due to the rise in temperature. Coral cannot thrive in water that is too hot or too polluted. Coral can continue to survive after they are bleached; however, they become more vulnerable to death after a stressful bleaching period. This is what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
In addition to this, plastic pollution is known to contribute to ocean warming as well as threaten marine life. The marine ecosystem is already weakened and is experiencing additional impacts from overexploitation of marine resources, deforestation, and dangerous agricultural runoff, just to name a few.
Ocean acidification is the reduction of pH in the ocean. This, in turn, causes the ocean to become more acidic. This is caused by an increase in carbon dioxide in the overall atmosphere. The ocean absorbs roughly 30% of CO2 that is in the atmosphere, and as the CO2 in the atmosphere increases, so does the level in the ocean. The acidity affects marine ecosystems and impacts shellfish and coral reefs in high volumes.
As the oceans continue to warm, it affects the marine life that lives in them.
By now, most of us are aware that polar sea ice and glaciers are melting, and this is causing the global sea level to rise. The struggle for survival for polar bears is well documented; however, there are many other species that are on the brink of survival. Algae is key in the arctic food chain, and its volume is decreasing due to the lack of sea ice. This, in turn, is causing a shortage of food for fish, seals, whales, and polar bears.
The dwindling sea ice is causing a lack of habitat for penguins, whales, seals, and walruses. This pushes polar bears closer to northern communities and is bringing them in closer contact with humans. The impacts of a reduction in sea ice are felt the hardest by Arctic cod fisheries, and it is causing food insecurities in the human population.
Rising Sea Levels
There is no question that climate change is causing sea levels to rise. However, in the last 20 years, the increase has dramatically increased. This is because warm water expands and it, takes up more space and causes the sea level to rise. The sea is rising by about ⅛ of an inch per year.
The effects on humans are clear, and it threatens to displace more than 680 million people who live in low-lying communities. Major cities that are at threat include Mumbai, Shanghai, and Ho Chi Minh City. With nearly 40% of the population of the USA living in coastal areas, this devastation is not just impacting polar bears anymore. It will also affect drinking water supply, food supply, and overall health.
The side effects will also be felt by wildlife as the survival of key habitats such as reefs, mangroves, and beaches are all under threat. Trees will struggle to grow sustainably without access to fresh water; animals will struggle to adapt to erosion, and plants may not be able to grow. This will force the animals that consume them to relocate as well.
As the ocean temperature changes, the oceanic currents change with it. This has staggering effects on migratory patterns of wildlife and even the temperature of cities on land. Europe's climate is maintained by the Atlantic current named the Gulf Stream.
This current is slowing down, and the effects of this will be widespread. It will have sustainability implications, including higher sea levels, extreme temperatures, and increased rates of ocean acidification. This will obviously affect both humans and wildlife collectively.
The issues of climate change are affecting the ocean in a devastating manner. Unfortunately, the ocean is often overlooked. For a more sustainable future, the entire biosphere needs to be protected from the devastating effects of climate change.
The oceans are crucial for the survival of the planet, and every business needs to factor this into their sustainability strategy. Without the oceans, the world will not continue to be a habitable place to live. Take steps to reduce your company's emissions and reduce plastic consumption. These are two steps that will make an impact on the oceans.
Educate and encourage your audience to learn and donate to issues affecting the oceans. Build campaigns and marketing activities around this concept to promote sustainability within your audience.
Support politicians and political parties that are putting the climate first. Support policies that protect the ocean and are actively fighting for more climate action. Furthermore, contact your local council and government and ask them how they are fighting climate change both on land and in the oceans. Ask them what they are doi to stay within the limits set out by the Paris Agreement.