Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Paris Climate Talks – Don’t Forget Our Oceans

A juvenile cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry/NEOO.

Today, the 2015 Paris Climate Talks began. Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Climate Talks bring together world leaders whose nations have made a commitment to fighting climate change. The expectation this year is a new universal, international agreement on climate change that will keep global warming below 2°C.

When discussing climate change, it is easy to get lost in the details of atmospheric warming and on land impacts, but a huge part of our biggest global threat is the impact on our oceans and the mitigation measures that we can – and must – take to help.

In anticipation of the Paris Climate Talks, Science Magazine published a special issue, Sea Changes, focusing on climate change impacts on the ocean with articles describing the not always visible impacts on our fisheries, shorelines, the deep ocean and more. The authors of one article state, “The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ nature of ocean change is reflected in the ocean’s lack of visibility in global climate change policy debates.” So, as one of the most important meetings of our global leaders kicks off, where are the oceans?

Unfortunately, they weren’t invited to the official table but will still get their spotlight on the sidelines. Friday, December 4 is Oceans Day at COP21, and the day will be filled with reports on the science of climate change and oceans and successful policy efforts made so far. The goal for the day is the development of a five year strategic action plan, which identifies key actions that can be taken through UNFCCC as well as how the broader oceans community can advance the agenda.

The decisions made in Paris over the next two weeks will (hopefully) result in global progress in our fight against climate change. Even though those attending the Climate Talks are speaking on the global scale, we can still bring the conversation down to the local level.

Studies show that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. As a result, we’ve seen iconic cod populations crash (of course these populations had already been pushed to the edge by chronic overfishing), commercially-important lobster move towards colder waters, and new species such as black sea bass enter New England waters. Furthermore, we are only beginning to realize the major impacts of ocean acidification on our local shellfish.

So, as we hear reports on the global discussion over the next two weeks, it’s important to remember that the fight for our oceans is right in our own backyard. But what can we do about it? We can protect critically important habitats such as Cashes Ledge to provide refuge for local species, we can use an ecosystem-based fisheries management approach to promote healthy populations, and we can support local efforts working towards the greater goal of mitigating climate change.

It’s time to act locally, nationally, and globally. Let’s not forget about our oceans.


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