Climate change has an effect on every part of the world and on every population that inhabits this planet. The impact is more visible in some places and lands, but no ecosystem can fully escape from it. The oceans look particularly resilient to casual observers, but in reality, they suffer as much as other ecosystems. There is even some evidence to suggest that marine animals are feeling the effects of climate change even faster than those that live on land.
The oceans are not pure water. Seawater contains a mix of salts and other compounds, and the plants and animals that live in the sea have adapted to that mixture. Most of those organisms are very vulnerable to changes in the water, especially to its acidity. Most marine creatures prefer an environment that is slightly less acidic than pure water.
Acidification happens when the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This process has sped up in recent years due to the increase in carbon emissions caused by human activities. The carbon dioxide reacts to form carbonic acid, which makes the oceans more hostile to marine life. According to the NRDC, shellfish suffers more from this process than many other creatures because the acid inhibits shell growth.
Rising Sea Levels
Rising sea levels are one of the most important consequences of climate change. It’s easy to see why that could be a problem for humans, but it’s harder to see how it could be bad for marine creatures. While it may seem like it could help them by giving them more space to thrive and breed, the reality is that rising sea levels can do lots of harm to ocean life.
The problem with rising sea levels comes down to light. Aquatic plants still need some light to live, and sunlight is the largest factor in determining the ocean temperature at a given depth. Light has trouble moving through water, so the upper levels of the ocean tend to be much warmer and have more plant life than the lower levels. If sea levels rise, the plants and animals in the sea need to expand with them to stay in an environment that can support their growth and survival. Some species can do that, but many remain stuck on the sea floor. Those species are likely to lose their food supply and to suffer as their environment gets colder and darker.
NASA has been studying the impact of climate change on natural disasters, and the results are ominous. NASA predicts that increasing temperatures on Earth are likely to lead to larger, more intense storms. This happens because the temperature differences between polar and equatorial regions are liable to increase, and storms usually result from different weather fronts coming into contact with each other.
That’s terrible news for humans due to the damage that hurricanes and other storms can cause, but it’s also bad for the oceans. Stormy conditions can harm plants and animals in shallow waters directly, but they also sweep debris into the ocean when they damage coastal towns. The causing pollution can go on to contaminate deeper parts of the ocean and the species that inhabit them.
Coral is famous for its bright colors, but those colors usually don’t come from the coral itself. They originate from the endosymbionts that life in the coral and provide both color and food for the populations themselves. Bleaching occurs when those organisms can no longer survive within the coral, which results in the coral turning white. The individuals can get some food on their own, but most of them depend on symbiosis to get most of their nutrients, so coral bleaching usually ends in death. Coral is vital to most ecosystems in which it is present, so in the long term, the process can be harmful to other species.
Many different things can damage the symbionts and lead to coral bleaching. Any significant environmental change can cause it, including ocean acidification, pollution, and temperature changes. Climate change contributes to all of these causes, either directly or by encouraging storms that lead to increased runoff, so it is very likely that combating climate change can help solve the problem of coral bleaching.
The Plankton Cycle
Animals need to eat. Plankton forms to the bottom of the food chain in most marine environments, so any damage to the plankton population can work up the food chain and lead to the collapse of the entire system. Plankton is especially vulnerable to environmental shifts because it reproduces very quickly, which means anything that impacts its reproductive cycle can have an influence on marine ecosystems.
As with many other organisms, plankton populations are moving towards the planet’s poles as other regions get too hot for them. The changing temperatures are also forcing significant plankton blooms to happen earlier in the year. This is a major problem for every species that depends on plankton as a food source. They need to adapt at the same rate if they want to maintain access to their food supply, and very few species can change as quickly as plankton populations can.
Protecting Marine Life
It’s clear that climate change is having an adverse impact on marine ecosystems. There are times when it’s hard to see the effect, but it’s always there. Marine ecosystems are crucial to both humans and nature, so it’s important to take steps to protect them. Given the significant impact that climate change is having on those systems, the best way to protect the sea is to work to reduce the impact of climate change as quickly as possible.