Earlier this month, four other Members of Congress and I held a press conference on the importance of protecting our oceans and waterways. Just as it affects what happens on land, climate change can have serious impacts on the aquatic environments and the life that resides within them. The world’s oceans cover more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and absorb more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study published earlier this month, oceans are warming at a significant pace, just like the atmosphere. In fact, the rate at which oceans are warming has nearly doubled since 1992 and is reaching deeper waters.
The impact climate change is having on our oceans is a major threat to fish species, marine mammals, and ocean ecosystems. A study published earlier this year found that coral bleaching events, caused by warm seawater, have increased to the point that reefs can no longer recover between severe episodes. Coral reefs may be the most diverse ecosystem on earth and support more species per unit area than any other marine environment. More than 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals, and hundreds of other species call coral reefs home.
Additionally, marine animals have been found far north of their typical range and in areas they don’t typically inhabit. Researches tracking blacktip sharks have found that the number of sharks migrating to South Florida has reduced significantly, posing a threat to the region’s entire ecosystem and record numbers of walruses were recently seen congregating on a single beach, a sign that sea ice is becoming harder to find. Loss of habitat will damage marine ecosystems and continue to cause population declines for iconic marine species such as polar bears, walruses, and many seal species.
If the current rate of warming continues, the dire situation for our oceans and the animals that call it home will only get worse. Two weeks ago, scientists published a study finding that if extreme warming continues, fishery yields will decline by 60 percent in the Atlantic Ocean and 20 percent globally by the year 2300. Another study found that climate change will affect 86 percent of the world’s oceans by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t significantly curbed soon.
We cannot allow human activity to decimate the earth’s oceans and the hundreds of thousands of species that inhabit them. I will continue using my position in Congress to fight for clean water and the preservation of all parts of our natural environment. Now, more than ever, we must protect our blue planet.