Ocean study on disappearing species due to warmer waters not surprising

Being a modest man, marine expert Kevin Flannery wouldn’t claim to be among the first people to notice the effects of climate change.

But, as far back as the early 1980s, he was identifying strange and often exotic fish caught off our south-west coast by fishermen from his native Dingle, Co Kerry, and West Cork. These creatures of the deep were coming from waters off Spain, Portugal, Africa, the Azores and the Gulf of Mexico.

Accustomed to warm water, the selection of sunfish, rays, leatherback turtles and jellyfish, to mention just some species, were coming north because of rising ocean temperatures. In one case, it took four years to identify a deepwater jellyfish. They were also turning up in Devon and Cornwall and, by the 1990s, UK scientists said their arrival was a clear indication of global warming.

A new report now says warming has caused twice as many ocean-dwelling species as land-dwelling species to disappear. The greater vulnerability of sea creatures may significantly impact human communities that rely on fish and shellfish for food and economic activity, according to the study published in the journal, Nature.

The study is the first to compare cold-blooded marine and land species’ sensitivity to warming and their ability to find refuge from the heat while staying in their normal habitats. The authors combed through worldwide research on nearly 400 species from lizards and fish to spiders.

“We find that, globally, marine species are being eliminated from their habitats by warming temperatures twice as often as land species,” said lead author Malin Pinsky, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The findings suggest new conservation efforts will be needed if the ocean is going to continue supporting human well-being, nutrition and economic activity.

Sometimes, academic reports state the obvious, like the observation climate change has taken a toll on many of the world’s fisheries, with overfishing magnifying the problem.

Seafood has become an increasingly important source of nourishment as the world population grows, especially in developing countries. More than 56 million people worldwide work in fisheries or survive on fisheries.

Given that a sharp decline in catches has been well flagged for years, the report’s authors say, surprisingly, they are ‘’stunned’’ to find that fisheries around the world have already been affected by ocean warming. That wouldn’t surprise any trawlerman in Castletownbere or Dunmore East.

The report calls for climate change to be taken into account in fisheries management.

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