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How Is Climate Change Hurting Sea Creatures?

As a result of climate change, the effects of continued increases in average temperatures -- on land and in the sea -- are being felt by the world’s cold-blooded species. A 2019 study published in the journal Nature reported that cold-blooded marine animals are feeling the effects of the warming phenomenon more sharply than their earth-roaming cousins. Led by researchers at Rutgers University, the study determined that ocean-dwelling species are disappearing from their habitats at twice the rate of cold-blooded animals living on land. Oceans continue to absorb heat from carbon dioxide pollution, to levels not seen in decades, and undersea dwellers have no way to escape it.

Climate casualties, in real time:

  • The study of over 400 species of cold-blooded animals, ranging from fish and mollusks to lizards and dragonflies, is “a further wake-up call that we need to protect forests and other natural environments,” the researchers said.
  • The scientists determined "thermal safety margins" for 88 marine and 318 terrestrial species, and estimated how much warming each can tolerate. Even small increases can affect food sources and reproduction.
  • The safety margins were smallest near the equator for ocean dwellers, and near the mid-latitudes for land dwellers. For some species, the heat is already too much. “These impacts are already happening. It's not some abstract future problem,” the researchers said.
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