The Oceans Are Getting Warmer; The Coral Reef Might Be Fine

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Discovered in green: The ocean is getting warmer, the coral reef might be okay, actually, probably not, and stop fishing so much. 

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  • The ocean is getting warmer. Just like science has found rising global temperatures on land, they have now confirmed a similar thing happening at sea. Comparing ocean temperature readings from 1870s to ocean temperature readings now, researchers found a .33-degree Celsius average increase in the upper portions of the ocean. And, just like the rest of this global warming, the rate has increased over humanity's most recent, most industrial years. "The significance of the study is not only that we see a temperature difference that indicates warming on a global scale, but that the magnitude of the temperature change since the 1870s is twice that observed over the past 50 years," explains researcher Dean Roemmich. "This implies that the time scale for the warming of the ocean is not just the last 50 years but at least the last 100 years." That time frame brings us back to the early 20th Century, you know, when all that manufacturing and transportation stuff really started taking off. [Scripps]
  • The coral reef might be okay. As we go and muck up the universe with our CO2, the oceans have gotten more acidic, something one would assume ocean dwellers might not appreciate. But the coral reef might be able to handle this new environment, research finds. "The good news is that most corals appear to have this internal ability to buffer rising acidity of seawater and still form good, solid skeletons," explains Malcolm McCulloch. We might even see more coral reefs pop up with those warming oceans we just discovered, since they flourish in warmer waters. "It's a more complicated picture, but broadly it means that there are going to be winners and losers in the oceans as its chemistry is modified by human activities -- this could have the effect of altering major ocean ecosystems on which both we and a large part of marine life depend," continues McCulloch. But for today, winner: Reef. [The University of Western Australia]
  • Then again, other human activities are seriously damaging the reef. Climate change and its effects, like that acidification, might have nothing to do with reef decline, finds research. Sounds like good news, right? Yay, people! Yay, nature! But, turns out other human activity has had serious detrimental effects on the sea ecosystem. "This study is the first to quantitatively show that the cumulative effects of deforestation and possibly overfishing were degrading Caribbean coral and molluscan communities long before climate change impacts began to really devastate reefs," explains Katie Cramer. All that reef we ruined with our Wave Runners, or whatever, will have a harder time growing back in the warmer oceans. Oops! [Ecology Letters]
  • Stop fishing so much. We're being too greedy with our fishing needs, taking all the fish for ourselves.  Other bigger fish need to eat too, which is why The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force recommends we halve the amount of fishing we do. "Traditionally we have been managing fisheries for forage species in a manner that cannot sustain the food webs, or some of the industries, they support," says Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch. "As three-fourths of marine ecosystems in our study have predators highly dependent on forage fish, it is economically and biologically imperative that we develop smarter management for these small but significant species," she explains. [Stony Brook University]

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