Diagram showing the present and future of marine life ecology and how climate change could effect it in the future.

Marine life ecology today and how climate change could affect it in the future.

Climate’s challenge to marine life in a future ocean

Reference: 07/57

Climate change is expected to have considerable impacts on Australia’s marine life and marine ecosystems with flow-on implications for the community, according to a CSIRO report for the Australian Government.

  • 4 April 2007

The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Australian Marine Life, is the first major study in the Australian region to combine the research of climate modellers, ecologists and fisheries and aquaculture scientists.

According to co-author, CSIRO’s Dr Alistair Hobday, it provides a global lead in research into the potential impacts climate change could have on specific marine ecosystems.

“Changes in ocean circulation – currents, eddies and the location of cold and warm water masses – are part of natural seasonal variability in the marine environment,” Dr Hobday says. “When you overlay more substantial environmental shifts as a result of climate change then decision-makers can justifiably ask: ‘What are the risks to Australia’s multi-million dollar marine and coastal industries and the health of the marine ecosystem?’

“There may be flow-on implications for human societies and economies, especially in regional Australia where the country’s fisheries and tourism industries could be at risk.”

Dr Hobday is one of five editors of the report by the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Research Flagship to the Australian Greenhouse Office.

The most affected marine groups are likely to be tropical coral reefs, cold water coral reefs, rocky reefs and kelps, plankton and species that live on or near the sea floor.

He says scientists have already seen changes to the distribution and quantity of marine species and communities in some regions such as the Tasman Sea.

“Sub-tropical migrations to the Tasmanian east coast where the waters have warmed in recent years are already altering the habitat of a whole range of species, and introducing new species such as the sea urchin,” Dr Hobday says. “Climate projections indicate that temperate Australian fisheries will be more vulnerable than tropical fisheries.”

“The most affected marine groups are likely to be tropical coral reefs, cold water coral reefs, rocky reefs and kelps, plankton and species that live on or near the sea floor. ”

“One lesson from this summary of research is that information on Australian marine impacts of climate changes is sparse. To better predict future changes to Australian marine ecosystems, increased observational data coupled with enhanced modelling techniques are needed,” Dr Hobday says.

Dr Hobday says the Oceans Flagship is continuing to invest in targeted research activities to increase Australia’s understanding of climate impacts on our marine ecosystems.

The Report was prepared by Drs Hobday, Tom Okey, Elvira Poloczanska, Thomas Kunz and Anthony Richardson, all of CSIRO.

Copies of the report are available through the National Library of Australia PANDORA Archive. [external link].

Downloadable image Climate's challenge to marine life in a future ocean.

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Alistair J. Hobday, Thomas A. Okey, Elvira S. Poloczanska, Thomas J. Kunz, Anthony J. Richardson CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research,  report Impacts of Climate Change on Australian Marine Life [external link] to the Australian Greenhouse Office , Department of the Environment and Heritage September 2006.