Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Adapting to Warming Waters

Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are rising. Image: NEFSC

A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that fish communities in protected areas have a better chance to survive the impacts of climate change than do those in areas that are heavily fished.

As the New York Times noted in an editorial this week, the study shows that protecting fish habitat is “enhancing the resilience of marine communities,” which can also “help ward off some of the effects of climate change.” The Times concludes:

“This is a reminder of something that all too easily goes unnoticed. How species will endure the effects of global warming depends less on the individual species than the overall health of the ecosystem it belongs to.”

Given the rapid warming we are already seeing in New England’s waters, the region’s managers should keep this in mind as they approach crucial decisions on marine habitat.

Last year was the warmest on record for New England’s waters and 2013 is shaping up as the 3rd warmest. We’re already seeing troubling signs that this is affecting the ocean food web.

NOAA and other federal agencies have already said that habitat protection is a top priority for helping marine wildlife adapt to climate change. In fact, these agencies’ own Climate Adaptation Strategy says we should “conserve habitat to support healthy fish” and “manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions.” It’s time to put those words into action.


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