Prelims level : E & BD – Pollution Climate Change Mains level : GS III - Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
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  • Ocean heat hit a record high in 2018, raising urgent new concerns about the threat global warming is posing to marine life.In its latest State of the Climate overview, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reaffirmed that the last four years had been the hottest on record figures previously announced in provisional drafts of the flagship report.
  • About 93 percent of excess heat trapped around the Earth by greenhouse gases that come
  • from the burning of fossil fuels accumulates in the world’s oceans.

Ocean warming?

  • The ocean absorbs most of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions, leading to rising ocean temperatures.
  • Increasing        ocean temperatures affect marine species and ecosystems.     Rising temperatures cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for marine fishes and mammals.
  • Rising ocean temperatures also affect the benefits humans derive from the ocean – threatening food security, increasing the prevalence of diseases and causing more extreme weather events and the loss of coastal protection.
  • Achieving the mitigation targets set by the Paris Agreement on climate change and limiting the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is crucial to prevent the massive, irreversible impacts of ocean warming on marine ecosystems and their services.
  • Establishing marine protected areas and putting in place adaptive measures, such as precautionary catch limits to prevent overfishing, can protect ocean ecosystems and shield humans from the effects of ocean warming.

What can be done?

Limiting greenhouse gas emissions

  • There is an urgent need to achieve the mitigation targets set by the Paris Agreement on climate change and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This will help prevent the massive and irreversible impacts of growing temperatures on ocean ecosystems and their services.

Protecting marine and coastal ecosystems

  • Well-managed protected areas can help conserve and protect ecologically and biologically significant marine habitats. This will regulate human activities in these habitats and prevent environmental degradation.

Restoring marine and coastal ecosystems

  • Elements of ecosystems that have already experienced damage can be restored. This can include building artificial structures such as rock pools that act as surrogate habitats for organisms, or boosting the resilience of species to warmer temperatures through assisted breeding techniques.

Improving human adaptation

  • Governments can introduce policies to keep fisheries production within sustainable limits, for example by setting precautionary catch limits and eliminating subsidies to prevent overfishing.
  • Coastal setback zones which prohibit all or certain types of development along the shoreline can minimise the damage from coastal flooding and erosion. New monitoring tools can be developed to forecast and control marine disease outbreaks.

Strengthening scientific research

  • Governments can increase investments in scientific research to measure and monitor ocean warming and its effects. This will provide more precise data on the scale, nature and impacts of ocean warming, making it possible to design and implement adequate and appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies.
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