International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is currently hosting the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, has recently released a report detailing the state of the ocean in response to climate change, and it’s not good.
The ocean has played a disproportionate role in mitigating the effects of human caused climate change, but increasingly extreme storms, bleaching coral, and massive fish die-offs are indications that the oceans can't take much more.
"We all know the oceans sustain this planet, yet we are making the oceans sick," Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general, said at the World Conservation Congress. "Without this oceanic buffer, global temperature rises would have gone much, much speedier."
In fact the atmosphere would be 36 degrees C hotter if it were not for the oceans, according to Dan Laffoley, principal adviser of marine science and conservation for IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Program. The report could not have been more timely, as July 2016 marked the hottest month in recorded history and was the 15th consecutive month of record-breaking heat.
Scientists from all over the world contributed to the report that looked at a variety of worrying phenomena occurring in the ocean from fish species moving out of their known range to the increased risk of warmer oceans quickly spreading pathogens.
"We've looked from microbes to whales, from pole to pole, we've looked at all the major ecosystems, including the deep ocean," Dr. Laffoley told National Geographic.
The scientists were able to confirm that climate changes in the ocean happen between 1.5 and 5 times faster than they do on land.
The report calls for "dramatic reductions in the amount of CO2 we are emitting," and notes that even with these cuts it will be decades, if not centuries, before effects will be realized because of a "multi-decadal lag in the climate system" and the "very nature of the deep sea."
Additionally, the authors of the report recommend increasing the knowledge available about the ocean as it becomes more volatile. This along with improved climate models will help scientists better analyze and quantify the exact effects of climate change. In their conclusion, the authors also recommend: broader recognition of the impact of global warming; global policies for environmental protection; better environmental protection and management in such areas as ocean and sea floors; updated risk assessment of the effects of ocean warming; updated economic analysis; and rapid strides in reducing greenhouse gasses.
"There's no doubt in all our minds that we're the cause of this," Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the Global Marine and Polar Program, told National Geographic. "We know what the solutions are – and we need to get on with it."
Despite the dire warnings there are some other signs of progress in the ocean.
Yesterday, nine species of the humpback whale – a longtime symbol of conservation efforts in the ocean – were taken off the endangered species list. And recently, President Barack Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea ocean sanctuary in Hawaii to 582,500 square miles, making it the largest protected ocean area in the world.
These sanctuaries "offer a glimpse of what our planet was like before the impacts of human activity, and it is critical that we preserve places in this way, both as a window to the past and for future generations," said Matt Rand, the program director for Pew Charitable Trusts' Global Ocean Legacy program, according to The Washington Post.