Going Green: Warmer waters aren’t healthy for our wildlife

I keep hearing about an extreme marine heatwave affecting the waters around the UK and Ireland, what does that mean and is it bad news?

Anything with the word ‘extreme’ in it is a bit of a warning flag, and you definitely don’t want ‘extreme’ anywhere near the word ‘heatwave’.

With around 7,723 miles of coastline in the UK and 4,675 miles of coast in Ireland, the warm weather and still waters we’ve had since around May has accelerated sea temperatures, increasing them at an alarming rate.

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The sea in certain areas of the country – like the Northeast is a staggering 6 degrees warmer than it should be at this time of year. That means the water in the UK currently is warmer than the average water temperature of the Mediterranean in the Costa Blanca in May.

What’s more, the water in places like Blackpool in June were recorded at just two degrees cooler than an indoor swimming pool. Blackpool recorded 20 degrees in June with the average swimming pool temperature hovering around 22 degrees.

The warmer seas might be nicer to swim in, if you don’t mind jellyfish, but they’re no good at all for wildlife. There’s the old fable that if you put a frog in boiling water, it’ll jump out but if you put it in cold water and slowly warm it, it’ll boil to death and we’re slowly turning the temperature up on our sea creatures.

The increase in temperature we’re experiencing is enough to kill fish, affect the mating cycles and change migratory patterns – which is having a huge effect on fishing and other marine businesses.

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When water temperatures get too warm, shellfish can develop a bacteria called vibrio bacteria, which can result in sickness and diarrhoea when ingested so there are increasing concerns for the oyster market in the UK and Ireland.

Fisherman have also reported noctulica algae which blooms and thrives in warmer waters. Not only does it devour plankton, which a lot of our marine animals rely on, it also saps oxygen from the water so it’s bad news all round.

Colin McCarthy, the founder of US Stormwatch, called it “one of the most extreme marine heatwave events ever recorded in modern history”.

Marine heatwaves are categorised from one – the lowest level, to five, where there’s a real cause for concern. Various scientists have concluded the heatwave our seas are experiencing right now is between four and five. And it’s not just marine life that’s going to bear the brunt.

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The warming seas around our island create conditions which make storms last longer and when it comes to storms, there’s potential threat to life in addition to flooding, more coastal erosion and crops being ruined too. Since 1973, the global frequency of marine heatwaves has doubled due to global warming.

While we can’t directly cool the seas, this is another urgent warning that carbon pollution is really messing up the planet with severe consequences for us and life on earth. Replacing oil and gas with clean energy is essential and urgent if to reduce the regularity of these extreme marine heatwaves.

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