| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Climate change shrinks marine life richness near equator- study

During some summers, as the Caribbean water temperatures rise, the luminous coral colonies of gold, green and blue that ring the island nation of Cuba give way to patches of skeletal white.

The technicolor streaks of darting tropical fish flash less frequently. The rasping sounds of lobsters go quiet.

While Cuba’s marine life has suffered from pollution and overfishing, there is growing evidence that the warming of waters due to climate change may be taking a large toll as well — both off the island’s coast and globally.

Research published on Monday finds that the total number of open-water species dwindled by almost half in the 40 years up to 2010 in tropical marine zones worldwide. During that time, sea surface temperatures in the tropics rose nearly 0.2 degree Celsius.

Study co-author Chhaya Chaudhary, a biogeographer at Goethe University, said “climate change is already impacting marine species diversity distribution,” with changes being more dramatic in the Northern Hemisphere where waters have warmed faster.

While numerous factors like overfishing have impacted tropical species, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a strong correlation between species decline and rising temperature.

According to researchers, fish species diversity tended to either plateau or decline at or above 20C (68 Fahrenheit).


While past studies have revealed that ocean warming is driving some species to migrate to cooler waters, the new study attempts to assess that impact more broadly — analyzing data on 48,661 marine species including birds, fish, mollusks and corals since 1955.

The dataset is a representative sample of 20% of all named open-water and seabed-dwelling marine species – like corals and sponges, researchers said.

According to the study, the number of species attached to the seafloor remained somewhat stable in the tropics between the 1970s and 2010. Some were also found beyond the tropics, suggesting they had expanded their ranges.

In other words, scientists say, species that can move are moving.

“In geological history, this has occurred in the blink of an eye,” said Sebastian Ferse, an ecologist at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research who was not involved with the study. “To see such changes occurring so rapidly is something quite alarming.”

For fixed species like corals, moving is not an option.

“One of the big questions is ‘Will coral reefs as ecosystems and corals as species be able to move north or south enough fast enough to adjust to a changing climate?’” Ferse said.

  • Reuters