Climate change, which causes rising ocean temperatures and strange weather events, is a hot topic under debate by countries across the globe. Several countries have already adopted environmentally friendly practices with the goal to go carbon neutral within the next decade.

Greenhouse emissions cause warmer average temperatures, and subsequently, warmer oceans. The ocean has absorbed more than 93% of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s.

Climate change (or global warming) also disrupts ocean currents, which could create even more severe changes in climate and weather events. 

Without acting, these environmental changes will have a significant impact on marine life and society as a whole. Warming temperatures drastically affect sea life in several ways.

Without further adieu, here are 8 ways warmer oceans will affect marine life. 

How Will Warmer Oceans Affect Sea Life?

1. Animals Will Migrate

Marine life thrives in specific water temperatures — the water must be not too hot and not too cold. Rising ocean temperatures means that many species are heading in search of cooler waters. This mass migration takes place across the globe.

Most marine species respond to warmer water by moving north or into deeper water. 

According to one study, more than 100 species off the coast of the northern U.S. have shifted 10 miles northward and 20 feet deeper since 1982. And since the 1960s, lobsters, red hake and black sea bass have moved north an average of 119 miles.

2. Eggs Are Threatened

Female sea turtles lay eggs at the beach where they originally hatched. But, warming temperatures and rising sea levels could put hatchlings — and their nesting sites — at risk. 

Hatchling Sea Turtles - 8 Ways Warmer Oceans Will Affect Marine Life

An increase in the average temperature of the Earth could threaten embryo development, hatch rate, sex ratios and recruitment. But the threat doesn’t stop once in the water.

Marine turtles, which live between 60 to 100 years, spend most of their lives in the ocean. With water temperatures steadily rising, experts aren’t sure if the animals can adapt to a changing climate. 

Bruce Collette of the NOAA Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory said, “How individual populations will respond to rising ocean temperatures and effects of other climate change outcomes are unknown.”

3. Plankton Will Thrive (Initially)

As the temperature of sea levels rise, the increased heat will fuel the growth of phytoplankton

The increased population of phytoplankton can create an imbalance in the ecosystem, where every organism interacts with each other in the food web.

4. Lobsters Will Get Sick

Many seaside locales known for their vibrant marine life are seeing substantial changes in the wake of climate change. Since 1960, the water and air in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay has warmed by 2.5 to 3° Fahrenheit. The rising temperatures drastically alter marine life.

Lobster in the Ocean - 8 Ways Warmer Oceans Will Affect Marine Life

In New England, the area’s most prominent species — lobsters, crabs and various fish — are seeking homes in alternate waters. High temperatures have caused southern New England’s lobster population to develop weaker immune systems. The result has been an influx of illness, with 35.52% of lobsters in the area suffering from a shell disease.

5. Coral Will Be Bleached

When ocean temperatures increase, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues. This process, which causes them to turn white, is known as bleaching. 

Image Comparing Bleached Coral to Healthy Coral - 8 Ways Warmer Oceans Will Affect Marine Life
Healthy Coral (left) compared to Bleached Coral (right)

While a bleached coral can survive, it’s under a lot of stress. In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs due to a mass bleaching event in the Caribbean. The species of marine life in coral reef communities used to vary significantly. But due to bleaching, that diversity is compromised.

The process of populations becoming less diverse, a term called biotic homogenization, could lead to less resiliency in species, something needed in the wake of climate change. 

Laura Richardson, a postdoc at the University of Exeter, says, “If a reef has fewer fishes carrying out particular functional roles or particular tasks in the ecosystem, then when there are ongoing disturbances such as bleaching events … the ecosystem as a whole will be less resilient.”

6. The Poles Will Melt

As the water temperatures rise, the poles will begin to melt. The production of ics algae, which requires sea ice, will become compromised, leaving a gap in the Arctic food chain. 

Calving Glacier in Alaska

Animals that will be affected include seals, beluga whales, narwhals and cod. Melted ice will also destroy the habitats of penguins, walruses, minke whales, orcas and megafauna.

Sea birds and other mammals in the Southern Ocean also feed on Antarctic krill, a food source that is directly impacted by sea ice. 

Arctic cod populations have also diminished, causing foragers like polar bears to look in coastal towns and hunting camps for food, and posing a danger to the people who live there.

7. Ocean Currents Will Shift

The ocean’s currents can be affected and altered by the rise in temperature.

Research shows global ocean circulation is continually slowing down. As the situation progresses, North America and Europe will see the most dramatic changes, with harsher temperatures, rising sea levels and changing marine life populations. 

Experts say the scenario, with an influx of fresh water from melting icebergs in the North Atlantic and Greenland, seems similar to the Little Ice Age, a period that lasted from 1300 to 1850 AD.

Many species depend on ocean currents for reproduction and nutrients, meaning this could cause a reduction in populations across the globe. Some fish that live in coral reefs, for example, rely on ocean currents to disperse their larvae.

8. The Ecosystem Will Change

One detrimental side-effect of warmer water is ocean acidification, the process where free hydrogen ions are created in the making of carbonic acid. These ions react with the molecules marine organisms need to survive.

Ocean acidification also corrodes shells, and can harm coral reefs, pteropods, shellfish and crustaceans. In one spot off the coast of New England, the water’s acidity was high enough to completely dissolve a pteropod’s thin shell within a month. 

With enough ocean acidification, sea life would struggle, food systems could collapse, and entire ecosystems will become inhospitable.

Conclusion: Climate Change in the Spotlight

Climate change has been a topic of debate for decades. But with ocean temperatures rising dramatically in recent years, the results are beginning to come to light. 

Many species have already fled their natural habitats, heading for northern waters that might offer a more tolerable temperature. Mass coral bleaching events take place across the globe and wipe out diverse ecosystems. And with the disruption of large ocean currents, the whole world could be affected. 

About The Author: Kacey Bradley

Kacey Bradley is the blogger behind The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Along with writing for her blog, she has written for sites like U.S. News, SUCCESS, Guides for Brides, Hotel Online and more!

Follow Kacey on Twitter and subscribe to her blog to keep up with her travels and inspiring posts!

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