5 Ways Climate Change is Impacting the Ocean
Monday kicks off the start of Climate Week NYC, and just yesterday, individuals from around the world walked out of their jobs and classrooms to demand action on climate change for the first day of eight days of strikes.
It’s easy to focus on the terrestrial impacts of climate change, like extreme weather, but life beneath the waves is already starting to feel the effects of a changing climate.
1. Ocean acidification.
It’s natural for the ocean to absorb carbon - in fact, it stores 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere. But, the ocean can’t stay in a natural balance when we’re emitting abnormal amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a result, the seas are becoming increasingly more acidic.
Ocean acidification occurs when there’s too much carbon in the water, causing the pH of the ocean to drop. A more acidic ocean means less calcium carbonate, a mineral that coral and shellfish depend on in order to grow strong reefs and shells. Oysters and other shellfish are at risk of development issues and adults have thinner shells that are at greater risk of breaking.
2. Warmer water.
As our planet warms, our oceans do, too, since the ocean is absorbing more than 90 percent of the heat in our atmosphere that is caused by our emissions. Even a slight change in temperature can have devastating impacts for marine life. Coral can’t acclimate to the warmer waters and die, causing shocking coral bleaching events where once-vibrant coral reefs die off to merely white, ghostly skeletons.
Warmer water also alters the migration patterns and breeding grounds of fish and other marine animals. Any disruption to a species on the food chain, no matter how small, has a ripple effect across the entire ecosystem.
3. Sea level rise.
Coastal communities around the world are at risk of being swept into the ocean due to sea level rise. As the planet heats up, icebergs and glaciers are melting and seawater expands as it warms up, causing the ocean to rise. Not only are certain areas expected to become submerged, but more communities will be at risk of damage from coastal flooding during storms.
4. Ocean currents may change.
The melting of glaciers and sea ice not only impacts sea level rise, but the increase in freshwater flowing into the ocean can shift the pathway of colder, saltier water. The change may disrupt the ocean’s “conveyor belt” of currents, which could have further implications for our climate.
5. Biodiversity loss.
Climate change’s impact on the ocean is threatening the future of many marine species. For example, the bleaching of coral reefs marks the destruction of important habitats for more than 4,000 species of fish. Marine animals rely on coral reefs; they are important spawning, nursery, breeding, and feeding grounds for many species, and if we lose reefs, there is the risk of a tragic domino effect across the ecosystem.
There’s no sugarcoating it: climate change is scary. But, there’s good news - it’s not too late.
Our governments hold the most power in tackling climate change by enacting policy that gets us on track toward a low-carbon future and fixing some of the damage that’s already occurred. But, we don’t have to wait for government to take the lead.
Our actions as individuals can collectively add up to make big change. Here are some easy lifestyle changes that can help reduce your personal carbon footprint:
- Limit private car usage and take public transportation, walk, or bike whenever possible.
- Cut down on air travel - flights make up a huge part of your carbon footprint.
- Eat less meat and dairy (raising livestock requires a ton of resources).
- Reduce your reliance on single-use plastic
- Choose to shop from brands that are committed to the environment (think: use recycled materials, rely on renewable energy, etc.).
Made with 100% recycled ocean plastic, tikós is a daily reminder to make ocean-friendly choices.