Amid all the talk about what rising temperatures and sea levels will mean for human habitation, not as much attention has been paid to what’s going to happen to our oceans and estuaries. We live on a water planet, and we’re killing it on many levels.
Studies cited in my book Striper Wars indicate that the warming Chesapeake Bay is soon to become an undesirable habitat for cool-water species like the striped bass. Rising waters are likely to drown marshlands essential to the development of young menhaden, a forage fish that also filters pollutants out of the bay. And that’s just one place, a microcosm of a looming global disaster. Britain’s Royal Society warned recently that carbon dioxide is turning our oceans acidic, likely to further harm deteriorating coral reefs and reduce populations of plankton, the base of the food chain.
Already, high river temperatures are killing off millions of spawning salmon in British Columbia. In the Southern Ocean, vanishing sea ice has brought about an 80 percent drop in numbers of Antarctic krill, the major source of food for whales and other animals there. In the Arctic, where amphipods need cold, nutrient-rich waters to thrive, gray whales are no longer finding enough to eat. In the warming North Sea, cod stocks have plummeted faster than overfishing can account for. Mediterranean species like red mullet are migrating north.
Ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic hit an all-time high in 2004. And what happens if, as some research predicts, that ocean’s circulation system shuts down? In addition to plunging much of Europe into a deep freeze, this would shrink the North Atlantic’s plankton stocks by half!
While the Bush Administration fudges the figures on behalf of its corporate suitors like ExxonMobil, refusing even to be part of the Kyoto Protocol, “the rate of change we are seeing to the ocean’s chemistry is a hundred times faster than has happened for millions of years,” according to the Royal Society’s John Raven. The world’s worst terrorists, in my view, are those who continue to ignore the scientific evidence and turn a blind eye. What conceivable future is being bequeathed to our children and grandchildren?
(For links to many recent articles about climate change and the oceans, visit Ross Gelbspan’s site.)