By Nicola Bridge, Head of Conservation Education & Communications
Following the release of the recent IPCC Climate Change Report, everyone at the OCT is more concerned than ever about the inextricable link that exists between our own human behaviour, a healthy Ocean and a healthy planet.
The natural world is amazing. From whole ecosystems to individual species, if undisturbed everything exists in harmony, tuned to a fine balance. For example, the human body is adapted to function at a self-regulated internal temperature of 37°C. Even a 1°C change can make us feel very ill, and anything over a 2°C change can be deadly!
When we looked at the most recent IPCC report, we were worried to see that the international panel of scientists have pulled together evidence showing that the global temperature continues to rise. There isn’t a single inhabited region that isn’t feeling the effects of the changing climate. The last 6 decades have been the warmest for 2000 years. Predictions for the average global temperature by 2100 range from an increase of 1°C to 5.7°C. The last time that the earth had an average of 2.5°C higher than we experienced in 2020 was 3 million years ago.
The Ocean is inextricably linked to the climatic changes that we are seeing, and for longer than we may have realised Ocean waters have been mitigating some of the effects. A healthy Ocean can regulate the climate, drive annual weather patterns, and produce oxygen when conditions are favourable for aquatic plants, algae and blooms of phytoplankton. The Ocean drives the water cycle and is key to the carbon and nitrogen cycles. A healthy Ocean is teeming with biodiversity from the largest to the smallest organisms, and this web of diversity is essential for all life.
As the atmosphere around us gradually warms, we are seeing glaciers melt and ice sheets retreat – sea level rise is happening right now. The top layers of the Ocean’s surface waters are warming, meaning that some species are moving out of their normal range, breeding at different times and potentially affecting whole food webs. Weather patterns are directly linked with the Ocean as the air above the water cools or warms and moves around the globe. Since the 1950’s there is now a greater frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events, as well as a shift in tropical cyclones in a northerly direction. Due to the Ocean and land absorbing an estimated 56% of the carbon dioxide we have released by burning fossil fuels, Oceanic waters are becoming more acidic. In some areas oxygen depletion is also a big problem. Low oxygen levels and lower pH are two factors that can greatly inhibit normal daily life functioning of marine animals and plants.
As ocean optimists, how can we find positivity here? Well, we believe that there is always hope.
We’re really excited that COP26 will be in the UK in November 2021. At this global climate conference, we call on governments and corporates to agree on robust measures to hold each other to account to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and other pollutants. Watch out for further announcement about how we will be involved with COP26.
We’re also really positive that the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will bring us all together to actively promote and fund solutions to reduce our impact on the Ocean, thereby supporting a stable climate.
For the OCT, this Decade will also be a chance to ensure that millions more people get a chance to experience and learn about the Ocean through our Ocean Curriculum work in schools and our Ocean for All programme available to people everywhere. Research shows that if people experience the Ocean and form a connection with it, they are more likely to behave in a pro-Ocean way.
And of course, we know that there are many millions of people who already make an effort to tread a little lighter on the planet. We work tirelessly to support others to understand how they can do the same. That’s why last month, we launched our Think Ocean Challenge. This simple quiz helps you to find out your Think Ocean personality, giving simple tips on how to build small habits that protect the Ocean. If everyone who has completed our quiz wrote to their government requesting urgent action on climate change, this could create real change and a positive future for the Ocean.