How climate change affects wildlife and the environment

Climate change is the generic term for the shift in worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in global average temperatures. It has been a constant feature of our planet. The rate of change has accelerated faster than anything we have experienced before, and too quickly for species to adapt.

What causes climate change

The main cause of climate change (or global warming) is human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”. What this means is that certain gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat radiating from Earth toward space.

A layer of greenhouse gases – primarily water vapour, and much smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – acts as a thermal blanket for the Earth, absorbing heat and warming the surface to an average of 15 degrees Celsius. Image and information source: NASA

Some of the human activities resulting in this “greenhouse effect” include:

  • Clearing of forests for farming
  • Releasing of pollutants from factories
  • Releasing of exhaust fumes from vehicles
  • Burning of trash

Consequences of climate change

1. Rising sea temperature
The sea has absorbed around 80% of the heat added to the Earth’s system due to climate change. The warmer water can affect the health of coral reefs, animal migration and the reproduction of many species, such as:

Salmon

Salmon require cold and fast-flowing streams and rivers to spawn. Rising temperatures affect the ability of salmon populations to reproduce.

Hawksbill Turtle Sea turtle
The sex of sea turtle offspring is determined by temperature. Climate change can skew sex ratios and threaten the survival of animal populations.
Puffin

Puffins are unable to find food due to warmer seas as prey species such as herring are moving into deeper waters.

Rising sea levels
2. Rising sea levels
As sea water warms, it expands. Likewise, as glaciers and polar ice melt, sea levels rise. The rate at which the sea level is rising has nearly doubled in the last two decades.

Melting of the arctic sea ice

3. Coral bleaching
When corals are under too much stress due to warmer water, they expel the algae living inside them and turn white. This is known as coral bleaching. While this does not mean the corals are dead, they do become vulnerable to death. Read more about coral bleaching.

coral bleaching
Photos taken by marine biologist Brett Monroe Garner on the Great Barrier Reef between Port Douglas and Cairns show bleaching of corals. Photograph: Brett Monroe Garner/Greenpeace

4. Changes to ocean current system
The ‘Great Ocean Conveyor Belt’ refers to the major currents that move water away from the equator to the poles, and cold water from the poles back to the equator.

Changes in ocean temperatures and wind patterns will affect and alter oceanic currents. This causes disruption to the life forms which depend on these oceanic currents to replenish their food and nutrients.

5. Ocean acidity
At least one quarter of the carbon dioxide that is released by burning coal, oil and gas does not stay in the air but dissolves into the ocean. As seawater becomes more acidic, the shells and skeletons of some animals such as clams, oysters and corals, get weaker. This is just one way ocean acidity affects ocean life.

Here’s a video showing the effects of ocean acidification on pteropod shells. Pteropods are tiny free-swimming marine snails which provide food for pink salmon, mackerel, and herring.

Climate change global warming

What can you do?

Every one of us has a part to play in helping to reduce climate change. Use energy, water and other resources wisely to minimise wastage, such as:

  • Take public transport whenever possible.
  • Choose energy efficient lighting
  • Switch off electrical appliances when not in use.
  • Use fans instead of air conditioners to keep cool
  • When using air conditioners, set the temperature at 25 degrees Celsius or higher.

Guardians of the S.E.A.A.
If you’d like to take your first step towards ocean conservation, join us as Guardians of the S.E.A.A.

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