Friday, December 21, 2007

Climate change to disrupt marine life generally, and fisheries

Marine life follows oceanic temperature bands, nutrient-rich areas and current flows—but how will all those things change in a changing climate?

(Photo: Hawksbill turtles are among the top predators whose reactions to climate change will be studied. NOAA photo.)

Researchers aren't sure, but what they are sure about is that as the ocean changes, the habits of marine creatures will, as well.

“Oceanic top predators respond to changes in their environment by changing their behavior and shifting their distribution,” said John Sibert, manager of the Pelagic Fisheries Research Program at the University of Hawai'i.

The could mean significant disruptions in locations of fisheries as well as the ability of the oceans to produce food.

“Ocean ecosystems may experience changes in the relative abundance of different species, as well as changes in overall productivity. This can have major economic impacts and may determine the food security of many coastal communities in the developing countries of the world,” Sibert said.

Hawai'i researchers joined 150 international scientists in Mexico this month to launch a 10-year research project to try to get a handle on the changes. It has the acronym CLIOTOP, for Climate Impacts on Oceanic Top Predators.

Their goal is to study the impacts of climate change on tuna, billfish, shark, whale, dolphin, sea turtle and seabird species.

They'll be looking at air and sea temperatures, wind changes, ocean currents and rainfall.

Sibert, who helped organize the CLIOTOP symposium and serves on its steering committee, said oceanic changes are likely to affect feeding, migration, population size and much more.

The threat” “Global warming may lead to severe contraction of favorable reproductive zones for some species of tunas that will have larger effects than fisheries on tuna stocks by the end of the 21st century,” Sibert said.

© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate

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