Popular Marine Species Could Face Extinction due to Increasing Ocean Temperatures

Image Credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

A new Cornell study published in the Oceanography magazine reveals that several commonly known marine species that are economically and culturally important are expected to face a highly risky future due to the increasing ocean temperatures along the East and West Coasts of the United States.

Climate warming has been wreaking havoc with North America’s marine ecosystems. The resulting demise of many of North America’s most iconic marine species provides yet another warning to society that a changing climate will leave future generations with an ocean much different than the one we grew up with.

Charles H. Greene, Professor, Cornell University

While lobsters now thrive in the Gulf of Maine, continued rising temperatures could lead to breakout of disease, and reduce the Gulf’s lobster population. Greene states that bacterial Epizootic Shell Disease, which thrives in warmer waters, has been moving northeastward along the New England coast and is now close to the lobsters in the Gulf of Maine.

With increase in water temperatures, the stress undergone by certain fish stocks is also increasing. “Cod stocks … like those in the Gulf of Maine, fare poorly under warming conditions, exhibiting … greater susceptibility to overfishing,” he said.

The northern right whales are also threatened due to the warming waters. It is known that, the northern right whales mainly feed on the copepod Calanus finmarchicus, and this is generously available in the Gulf of Maine. However, if the rapid warming of the ocean continues the copepods will have to shift their habitat northward. This shift in habitat will force the whales to change their diets, or might even compel them to shift their foraging grounds, Greene said.

The extensive ocean warming along the West Coast poses similar threats to several iconic species of salmon, marine mammals and starfish.

Charles H. Greene, Professor, Cornell University

Greene explained that the Chinook salmon stock in California is suffering from nutritional stresses as a result of warm coastal conditions. If such conditions continue to exist, it is anticipated that this salmon stock could even face local extinction very soon.

Oceanography magazine also emphasized the research work from the lab of Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, which describes how the hot summer temperatures have worsened the outbreak of sea star wasting disease, which causes gnarls and lesions on sea stars’ rays.

In addition to the impacts on domestic shores, the unusual global reach of warming from the 2016 El Nino also affected the world’s coral reefs.

Greene and Harvell will participate in the U.S. State Department’s Our Ocean conference that will take place on September 14th and 15th at Washington, D.C. This conference focuses on the key ocean issues like climatic impacts on the ocean, marine pollution, sustainable fisheries, and marine protected areas.

Harvell will present the film Fragile Legacy, which will explain her biodiversity research and its relationship to Cornell’s Blachkas Glass Invertebrate Collection. Greene will showcase an exhibit in the lobby of the State Department displaying Wave Gliders, i.e. a robotic way to measure the health of the ocean.

Video Credit: Fragile Legacy/Youtube.com

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