Year 4, Month 9, Day 30: Break Your Heart and Leave You To Sing

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an ichthyologist who’s noticing stuff:

On a dark night in the middle of a wide marsh near Tuckerton, N.J., a team of Rutgers University researchers lowered a net over the railing of an old wooden bridge. Then they turned off their flashlights and waited.

Below, in Little Sheepshead Creek, the incoming tide was washing hundreds of tiny fish larvae into the net.

By now – 24 years after these weekly surveys began – Rutgers ichthyologist Ken Able is seeing the unmistakable effects of warming oceans and climate change. Especially in the last decade, the researchers have been seeing more southern species, including the larvae of grouper, a fish common in Florida. At the same time, they’ve been capturing fewer northern species, such as winter flounder.

The changes Able is recording at Little Sheepshead Creek, near Great Bay, are reflected along the East Coast and worldwide. They have the potential not only to alter ecosystems, but also to change the seafood on our dinner plates. Out on Jersey’s beaches, where Atlantic croaker catches used to be a rarity – this was considered the northern end of the fish’s range – anglers now commonly reel them in.

Have a beer. September 22:

The dramatic relocation of fishes to more hospitable locales isn’t the only example of climate change’s effects on the interdependent systems of Earthly life. As the greenhouse effect intensifies, more and more plants and animals will be forced from endangered regional ecosystems into new territories, with unpredictable consequences not just for our meals, but for the other species they encounter. When human beings are forced from their homes by drought, extreme storms, or rising sea levels, we call them “climate refugees,” and the term is as accurate for Atlantic Croakers and other displaced fish as it is for members of our own species.

For fish to relocate to cooler water doesn’t sound like such a big deal — but it could easily be catastrophic for many other species struggling for survival in a complex, symbiotic oceanic environment. An unraveling web of life ultimately leaves us all uprooted and unsupported.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 22: Why People Tear The Seam Of Anyone’s Dream Is Over My Head

Oceanic ecosystems are coming undone, notes the LA Times:

As climate change heats our oceans, you’d expect temperature-sensitive marine species to flee poleward to cooler waters. So why have some headed to warmer regions toward the equator?

Scientists have solved the puzzle. For the most part, these animals are relocating to cooler waters. But since the effects of climate change can vary widely across regions, sometimes those cooler regions are closer to the poles and sometimes they’re closer to the equator.

In other words, marine animals are still reacting to climate change, but at a local scale. And they’re doing it so reliably that you can actually measure the speed and direction of those changes by watching where animals go, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Just another day in the Solar System. September 14:

As climate change’s effects grow more intense, we’ll see more plant and animal species on the move; the transformation of the world’s ocean populations is just one example of something that’s happening everywhere we look. But the heart of the story isn’t that creatures are traveling to more salubrious locales. The intricacy and variety of Earthly life is created by the interactions between life-forms; local and regional habitats have evolved over thousands of years to support symbiotic relationships in a richly interwoven tapestry.

A particular type of fish moving where the water is cooler doesn’t sound like that big a deal — but it could easily spell disaster for other species in an interdependent oceanic environment. When the web of life unravels in one location, it will have impacts everywhere. With billions depending on the seas for their sustenance, the news of ecosystem disruption is bad news for everyone.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 7: Thought We Said Goodbye Last Night

More on oceanic acidification, this time from the Sacramento Bee:

Making a living from the ocean is not for the faint of heart. It’s comparable to farming the soil, in that weather, disease and market conditions can make or break your bottom line. Food production, whether farming on land or in water, is dependent upon a number of factors all working in sync to produce a healthy, resilient crop. If just one factor is off, it can ruin your whole harvest.

A recently recognized threat to ocean health has the potential to do more than just inflict a bad year on shellfish producers. Ocean acidification could put us out of business permanently. Caused by activities that generate pollution from factories, cars and power plants, ocean acidification is physically changing the chemistry in the ocean. The ocean is a tremendous sponge for pollution, soaking up about 30 percent of what we put in the atmosphere. As those emissions are absorbed, it makes seawater more acidic with dire consequences to marine life, dissolving the shells of oysters, mussels and clams, and confusing behavior of fish, like salmon.

This is the “we’re all in it together” letter. Sept. 2:

Oceanic heating and acidification (two consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect) make catastrophic declines a certainty for California’s shellfish industry. And it’s not just the West coast of the USA, but everywhere humans make their living from the sea, for the climate crisis knows no national boundaries.

Since billions of people (between a quarter and a third of Earth’s population) depend on the ocean for food, this is a humanitarian emergency. Include the likely effects of climate change on agriculture, and the gathering storm clouds are too big to ignore.

Unless, of course, you’re in a position to do something about it, like the many politicians whose myopic climate-change denialism ensures a failure to act in time to avert disaster. It’s never a good idea to bet on ignorance; when our species’ future is at stake, it’s a catastrophe in the making.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 25: Nothin’s Gonna Bother Me Atoll…

The Wyndham Weekly (Austrialia) writes about a newly released study that suggests coral may have a hope in hell after all:

Rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change are unlikely to mean the end of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, according to a new scientific study.

The Cell Press journal Current Biology this morning published what it says is the first large-scale investigation of climate effects on corals and found while some corals were dying, others were flourishing and adapting to the change in water temperatures.

For the study researchers identified and measured more than 35,000 coral colonies on 33 reefs across the length of the Great Barrier Reef to see how they were responding to warming ocean waters.

In results they have described as ‘‘surprising’’ the study found while one species declined in abundance, other species could rise in number.

One of the researchers, Professor Terry Hughes from James Cook University, said while critical issues remained he now believed rising temperatures were unlikely to mean the end of the coral reef.

‘‘The good news is that, rather than experiencing wholesale destruction, many coral reefs will survive climate change by changing the mix of coral species as the ocean warms and becomes more acidic,’’ he said.

‘‘That’s important for people who rely on the rich and beautiful coral reefs of today for food, tourism, and other livelihoods.’’

He said earlier studies of climate change and corals had been done on a much smaller geographical scale, with a primary focus on total coral cover or counts of species as rather crude indicators of reef health.

The problem with good news… Sent April 15:

While a recently released study on coral reefs’ potential for survival in a climate-transformed world reassuringly suggests that oceanic acidification and global warming may not mean extinction, it should prompt us all to work harder on controlling and reducing the planetary greenhouse effect. Gigantic coral colonies like the Great Barrier Reef may well continue living even as their ability to form structures is compromised by higher pH seawater — but this good news cannot be our civilization’s newest excuse for inaction.

Just as the long-term health and prosperity of coral reefs is compromised by climate change, humanity will find its long-term health and prosperity to be surprisingly vulnerable. While we clever apes will surely figure out ways to go on living, our species faces significant dangers from the rapidly emerging effects of the past century’s worth of atmospherized carbon. In the long run, perhaps we are all coral.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 14: Insert Crustacean Headline Here

A piece at Daily Kos linked to a story about a proposed halt on lobster fishing in southern New England. On a hunch, I checked the Boston Globe website to see if they had a piece about it…and lo and behold, there it was.

Lobstermen and some scientists assert that warming waters, possibly due to climate change, have allowed disease and infections to overtake lobster populations off southern New England, killing many and pushing others farther offshore into deeper, cooler waters.

It’s welcome to have once or twice a week when I’m not just composing responses to the latest idiocy in Washington. The lobster story seemed like a good hook on which to hang a “Yo! Media! Pay some attention to this, okay?” approach.

The proposed moratorium on lobster fishing in the waters south of Cape Cod is a necessary response to a painful reality. As climate change warms the waters, lobsters have grown more susceptible to disease, and their numbers have dwindled significantly. Shrinking lobster populations affect local economies; moratorium or no, it’s the fishermen who’ll take it on the chin.

What’s happening to Cape Cod’s lobstermen is a strong indicator of what to expect over the next decades, as the changing climate cripples indigenous ecosystems in unpredictable ways. All over the world, people whose lives and incomes depend on natural resources will find themselves under significant and unanticipated threat. This is yet another reason to take the threat of catastrophic global warming seriously; the difficulties of the Cape’s lobstermen are a harbinger of disaster. What will it take for our media figures and politicians to pay attention?

Warren Senders