Warming oceans move marine life towards poles

Posted on 30 March 2020

A new report in the journal Current Biology has recorded a shift in marine species migrating towards the polar regions as a result of warming oceans.

The study shows that the impacts of climate change and global warming have resulted in a 1°C increase in the temperature of the world’s oceans since the late 19th century and pre-industrial era.

This has affected marine life in that hundreds of species are less abundant and are occurring far less in their natural regions. Species such as fish, marine mammals, reptiles, phytoplankton, seagrass and algae are affected by these changes to their environment, and have set their sights on the cooler waters nearer the North and South poles to survive.

Image: Unsplash

In the last century the study takes into account the wider distribution of marine species, and found that some 304 species are less abundant closer to the equator and more prominent and closer in latitude to the poles.

The new paper suggests that species which were historically closer to the equator and are less abundant there now, indicates a failure to adapt fast enough or at all to the environmental stresses of global warming. Those who have gone in search of cooler climes closer to the poles may find new opportunities in their new ecological environments.

It no doubt presents a problem for biodiversity as well, affecting food and habitats for marine organisms and predators. Humans, too, will surely be affected, and the livelihoods of fishermen competing with an already over-zealous global fishing industry.

Compared again to pre-industrial levels, the journal article predicts that ocean temperatures will still rise to about 1.5°C higher by 2050, which will continue to drive species further polewards and create a greater shift in ocean habitats.

The article, ‘Climate Change Drives Poleward Increases and Equatorward Declines in Marine Species’ was published in the journal Current Biology, and can be accessed here.

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