Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

The Pope’s Climate Speech Reminds Us: Act Now for Saving Our Oceans

Pope Francis says "we are living at a critical moment in history." Photo via

Pope Francis began his visit to the United States yesterday in our nation’s capitol where he addressed thousands of people on the White House lawn. The Pope’s visit is always expected to make headlines, and on this visit, his comments on climate change are top news.

In his speech on Wednesday, Pope Francis stated, “…it is clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our common house, we are living at a critical moment in history.” Let’s emphasize that: “a critical moment in history.”

The impacts of climate change can be seen all over the world, from rising sea levels, more intense storms, and melting ice caps. The Pope’s comments serve as a reminder of the need to act on New England’s climate crisis, right here in our backyard.

Science shows that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, and we are already seeing the impacts of increasing water temperatures on our ocean species and New England fisheries. For example, fish populations are shifting north in search of cooler waters, which can have negative impacts on food web and ecosystem dynamics; the southern New England lobster industry has nearly collapsed; and the northern shrimp fishery was closed for its second consecutive year.

And warming waters are not the only climate change effect that fish have to worry about. Shellfish health has greatly decreased due to ocean acidification.

Science has shown us the impacts of climate change on our ocean, but it also offers us a solution: habitat protection. A 2012 NOAA report said that habitat protection “may be one the most effective, and doable, ways to increase resilience to climate change.”

If there is one thing to take away from Pope Francis’ speech, it’s that we must act now. Ocean conservation is just one piece of the climate change puzzle, but there are immediate actions that we can and must take. We can protect our most important ocean habitats from future human threats and help our oceans build resiliency to climate change. We can permanently protect the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts.


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