Experts say there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
It’s also predicted that 90% of our coral reefs will die, marine extinction will occur at much greater rates, and our seas may be left overheated, acidified and lacking oxygen.
Chloe Le Blonde, MSc Wild Animal Biology Student, shared how climate change impacts her career and why the global issue goes beyond its effect on terrestrial ecosystems.
Growing up, Chloe always loved animals. At the young age of 12, her dad shared how amazing diving is and expressed that she should explore this for herself. This subsequently led to Chloe achieving her diving license.
This passion stuck as Chloe opted for the Royal Veterinary College to study her MSc, where she described her course as providing her with an overview of countless species and ecosystems. Having learnt about the range of habitats, diseases, problems, and threats these ecosystems face, she decided she wanted to look at coral reef ecology with a focus on sharks.
Now in her fourth year of studies, Chloe notes that the worsening climate is frequent: “I would say it’s been stressed consistently across the four years that climate change is a threat to the environment and the species within it. This year we’ve had modules such as ecosystem health and conservation biology.”
Whilst Chloe works on her thesis - a project looking into how recreational fishing impacts coral reef predator abundance and distributions, specifically in the Maldives – she’s observed the effects of climate change on an individual level.
“Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be diving in the Maldives, where I saw a lot of bleaching with the corals. There were some coral reconstruction programmes going on, but, unfortunately, in some spots, the bleaching was really dramatic, and there was no marine life around those areas,” she says.
Chloe diving in the Maldives. Image Credit: Chloe Le Blonde
But that’s not the first time she’s witnessed it: “With research for my thesis, I’m constantly reading articles about how climate change is impacting the marine environment.”
“A lot of my research [going forward] will be based on identifying threats and what species and which particular habitats are impacted the most and what we can do about it,” she says. She describes that most conservation efforts will try to prioritise the areas and species that need it most, but the list is endless.
“We need to choose where to allocate funding and research to first and identify which species and environments are the most vulnerable or the most critically endangered. Unfortunately, a lot of these threats are linked to climate change, so it’s going to be something we’re constantly thinking about.”
As oceans cover 71% of our planet’s surface and makeup 95% of all the space available to life, it’s no surprise that we’re yet to discover a straightforward solution. They also help to regulate global climate as the world’s largest store of carbon. But this is where the exchange intensifies, and not in our favour…
Chloe advises: “Climate change will have different effects on different marine ecosystems across the globe - for example, a mangrove forest, kelp forest and coral reef. It’ll affect those systems very differently. Coral reefs can suffer from bleaching and also the rising amount of co2 emissions and co2 in the atmosphere; acidification of corals is also a big problem which can cause the death of the coral and reduce its growth massively,
“Many species, if not all species, will suffer from some sort of impact from climate change.”
It’s unknown what effects these will have on every marine species, but some have already been identified. Our rising global temperature is not only leading to a loss of habitat for whales and dolphins, but it’s affecting the timing and ranges of their migration, thus disrupting their reproductive cycles. Likewise, the sex of sea turtles is temperature-dependent, meaning that as the global temperature rises, so does the ratio of female: to male sea turtles.
Sea turtle sighting in the Maldives. Image credit: Chloe Le Blonde
“You can go on and on about how climate change is impacting different species and different ecosystems across the whole marine world,” says Chloe.
Within her research, Chloe has found that overfishing is the main problem: “It’s diminishing fish stocks globally and affecting so many species. Overfishing came out on top as the main reason for the shark population decline. In the last 50 years, 71% of sharks and ray species have suffered some sort of decline.”
With less than ten per cent of the global ocean is explored, it’s no surprise that less attention is given to marine ecosystems than terrestrial ones. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
“It’s harder to implement conservation efforts in marine environments because you need more specialised equipment to conduct research, and there’s a lack of understanding of many species and marine environments. It’s also harder to engage the public and get the funding for it. It comes from a lack of exploration and understanding of some of the harder-to-reach spots on the planet,” says Chloe.
So what can we do?
“Be aware, educate yourself of what is going on in terms of marine conservation, what current projects are, which species are most endangered and most threatened, what are those threats, which different habitats are threatened, what’s causing it, the root of the problems. You can educate yourself and understand what the root of these issues is.”