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Media release: New study reveals widespread climate risks for marine life, but offers path toward adaptation

Posted by Communications and Marketing on August 22, 2022 in News

Comprehensive analysis of 25,000 species lays the groundwork for new climate-smart approaches to management and conservation

Monday, August 22, 2022 (Halifax, NS) – A new article published in the international journal Nature Climate Change reveals that unless human emissions are sharply reduced, climate change will cause widespread disruption to marine life, with the greatest impacts on top predators, global hotspots of biodiversity and coastal fisheries in low-income nations.

The study provides an unprecedented picture of how marine life will fare in a warmer future ocean. Researchers developed an innovative approach for assessing climate risk for nearly 25,000 marine species by analyzing how their innate characteristics, such as body size and temperature tolerance, interact with past and future climate conditions in all parts of the ocean where they live.

The research was conducted by an international team of researchers supported by Oceans North and the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

“We created a ‘climate scorecard’ for each species and ecosystem that tells us which will be winners or losers under climate change,” says Daniel Boyce, the study’s lead author and a research associate at Dalhousie University. “It allows us to understand when, where and how they will be affected, as well as how reducing emissions can mitigate climate risk.”

The study evaluated climate risk under two different scenarios: one where emissions continue to be high, and another where emissions are sharply reduced in accord with the Paris Agreement. The authors reported that under the worst-case emissions scenario:

·       87% of marine species would be under high or critical climate risk
·      On average, species were at risk across 85% of their distribution
·      Climate risk was heightened in coastal ecosystems and closer to the equator, disproportionally threatening tropical biodiversity hotspots and fisheries

With continued high emissions, climate risks for fished species were systematically greater within the territory of low-income nations where people tend to have a greater reliance on fisheries to meet nutritional needs.

“Low-income countries have contributed the least to climate change yet have the highest climate risk to their marine ecosystems and fisheries,” says co-author Derek Tittensor. “This ongoing disparity between those who have produced the most emissions and those who suffer the most from the impacts remains an inequality that requires urgent attention at the highest levels.”

Collectively, the findings suggest that continued high emissions would lead to widespread disruption of marine ecosystems, biodiversity and fisheries, with disproportionate consequences for low-income nations that have the least capacity to adapt.

But the study also emphasizes where we have an opportunity to act. Reducing emissions would reduce the climate risk for virtually all species and help minimize disruption to fisheries and ecosystems. These actions would especially benefit low-income nations.

“The benefits of emission mitigation for reducing climate risk are very clear,” says co-author Boris Worm. “Mitigation provides the most straightforward path to avoiding the worst climate impacts on oceans and people, setting the stage for global recovery under improved management and conservation.”

Ultimately, the study provides a framework that can help stakeholders and decision-makers with developing strategies to manage and conserve species and ecosystems more effectively under climate change.

“Our approaches to fisheries management and conservation were largely developed during a period of climate stability,” says Boyce, “but anthropogenic climate change is rewriting the rule books. We need to continue to develop new approaches and adaptation strategies if we want to ensure that our oceans remain healthy and productive.”


Author contacts:

Daniel Boyce, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Canada (UTC -3h): +1 902 448 8941/

Derek Tittensor, Dalhousie University, Canada (UTC -3h): +1 902 292 4729/

Boris Worm, Dalhousie University, Canada (UTC -3h): +1 902 210-8330/

Alex Pigot, University College London, UK (UTC +1h): +44 7889 858808/

Nancy Shackell, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Canada (UTC – 3h): +1 902-233-8796/

Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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