The Effects of Climate Change on Aquatic Ecosystems



Can We Save Our Aquatic Ecosystems?!


What is happening?

Global warming is an issue that is supported by some and disputed by others.  Whether or not you believe in considering global warming an “issue” of the present, the reality of the facts that support it is irrefutable and it is without a doubt something that we need to stop.  It is predicted that the Earth’s climate will increase approximately 2-6° Celsius by the end of the twenty-first century, which would make this the warmest period on Earth for the last 100,000 years.  This large-scale warming of the Earth is leading to very extreme and rapid climate changes (Mitchell 2117). These climate changes are bringing a long list of negative effects and consequences that will continue to worsen. Of the many ecosystems that are being affected by the climate change, the aquatic ecosystems are suffering the most damage.  Aquatic ecosystems are extremely important to the biology of the Earth, considering they cover 71% of the Earth’s surface.  Recent studies have shown how rising greenhouse gases are causing climate changes that are driving these ecosystems to near extinction (Hoegh- Guldberg, 1523).  Many people do not see how the damage being done to the aquatic ecosystems affects humans; however, these ecosystems play a major role in supporting our economy.  I am arguing that global climate change is destroying the aquatic ecosystems and the organisms that live there. This is also having a direct effect on humans and we must take steps to begin to slow down the process of climate change before it is too late.

The Dangerous Effects:

Climate change due to global warming is harming the aquatic ecosystems in many different ways.  The damage ranges from significant alterations in the aquatic biogeochemical processes to permanently affecting, and possibly ruining, the aquatic food web structure (Wrona 359).  The most significant change that is contributing to both of those issues is the damage being done to coral reefs.  There are an estimated 30% of coral reefs that are already severely damaged and approximately 60% of coral reefs may be damaged beyond repair by the year 2030 (Hughes, 929). Healthy coral reefs help support fisheries, jobs and businesses through tourism, as well as recreation.  Most of the federally managed fisheries directly depend on coral reefs for the life cycles of the growing fish.  The commercial value of fisheries from coral reefs, estimated by the Marine Fisheries Service, is over $100 million.  The coral reefs are also a popular spot for tourism, which includes diving trips, hotels, recreational fishing trips and local restaurants.  The economies associated with these areas receive billions of dollars from the people that visit (Kitch).

coral-reefs            The major damage being done to coral reefs because of the climate change is called “coral bleaching”.  Coral bleaching is directly related to elevated temperatures and coral stress.  When coral become stressed and overheated, they release a large amount of their pigment minerals and become extremely pale or white.  If the thermal stress is very severe and prolonged, the coral will permanently bleach and then die (Hughes, 930). Another thing that adds stress to the coral is ocean acidification due to the increasing climate.  Ocean acidification is caused by increased uptake of CO2 by the ocean waters.  Due to global warming, there is a huge increase in the amount of CO2 in the air.  The ocean takes up approximately 25% of whatever the amount of CO2 is in the air annually, therefore the ocean will take up more since there will be a larger amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  The increased uptake of CO2 in the ocean waters lowers the pH of the water.  The low pH reduces the seawater aragonite saturation state, which leads to lower calcification rates of the coral.  Coral reefs have to be in an environment of a high pH in order to undergo calcification to survive and produce vital minerals for the organisms that live in and around the coral.  Calcification is what makes the coral strong, so without it they become extremely weak, causing great stress on the corals.  The bleaching is causing significant increased coral mortality (McLeod, 20).  Eventually, all of the coral in the ocean will be completely gone.  It will all become bleached beyond repair and the entire population of this organism will diminish, if nothing is done to stop this threat.

colorful-coral The diminishing coral population is destroying the aquatic food webs.  Coral reefs are one of the most important aspects of the aquatic food webs.  They are home to millions of species, and also are essential to the survival of millions of others.  A few of the millions of species that rely heavily on coral reefs for survival are lobsters, clams, a variety of fish, sea turtles and sponges (Nielsen).  Imagine the coral mortality increasing so much that the reefs become very rare, or even extinct.  What are those millions of species that rely on the reefs for survival supposed to do?  All of those organisms that rely on the reefs for their survival will slowly begin dying off.  As that happens, the rest of the aquatic food web will start diminishing as well.  Species depend on each other for food, minerals and survival and if the species that they rely on do not exist any more, they will die off as well.  Eventually our aquatic food webs will be almost nonexistent.

The diminishing coral population and species extinction due to climate change are destroying the aquatic ecosystems.  However, there is going to be an extremely negative impact on our economy as well.  Tourism is a huge part of our economy today.  As the coral reefs and certain species die off, so will the tourism that directly revolves around those things.  There will be no more diving trips to see the beautiful coral reefs or to see the amazing aquatic organisms that live in and around them.  There will also be no more coral-divingshallow water experiences to interact with certain species.  The restaurants that include or are largely based around aquatic species will also be affected.  If the species are endangered or extinct, the restaurant will not be able to get them anymore.  Therefore, they will have to shut down.  There is also an endless amount of jobs that are based around certain aquatic species that will no longer exist.  All of these issues will dramatically affect our economy in a very negative way, which in turn will affect us.

Can We Help?

YES!! There are multiple ways we can begin to slow or even stop the damage that climate change is doing to these ecosystems, but we have to start now.  One way we can begin to save the aquatic ecosystems is to maintain the natural hydrograph.  If there is more water in a system, there will be more habitat volume for the aquatic species.  The greater water concentration will also make the water less susceptible to the extreme temperature increase.  In order to maintain the natural hydrograph, we need to make sure the water keeps flowing in the direction it is supposed to flow.  Dams and other structures like this impair the natural hydrograph because they do not allow the constant flow of water.  If we removed dams that are not absolutely necessary, it would be a huge benefit (Adams).

Some Cities Have Already Started!

Greenhouse gases are a huge contributor to climate change.  So, another way we can stop climate change is to implement rules or regulations in how much greenhouse gases we release.  One city has already begun to implement changes.  Los Angeles has started to use renewable energy sources as the primary source of their energy.  These sources do not produce toxic gases, so there is nothing being released into the atmosphere that is detrimental.

ila-4-picThis chart represents the increase of the use of renewable energy sources in Los Angeles (DWP-  Since 2007, Los Angeles has increased their use of renewable energy sources by almost 20%.  That is a huge step in helping to slow down the process of climate change.  Another city that has started helping is San Francisco.


ila-5-picThis chart represents the percent decrease of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco (San Francisco..  They have implemented certain rules and regulations that have greatly diminished the amount of toxic gases they are releasing into the environment.  Decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas being released and implementing the use of non-toxic renewable energy sources are two major ways we can help to slow down the process of climate change.


Our planet is made up almost completely of water, making the aquatic ecosystems the most abundant ecosystems on the planet.  Aquatic ecosystems are very complex with many different aspects contributing to their success and survival.  Sadly, the climate change due to global warming is destroying many of these aspects, which will eventually ruin the ecosystems.  This is causing damage to be done to the aquatic ecosystems as a whole.  The coral reefs are dying, which is killing off the species in the bottom of the aquatic food web that rely on the reefs for survival.  Without these bottom-tier species, the species that are higher up are slowly dying off as well because they have no source of food.  When a large amount of all the aquatic species die off, what is supposed to happen with our tourism and and jobs and restaurants?  They will be nonexistent.  This will have a highly negative impact on our economy, which will directly affect us.  At first thought, you would not think that the depletion of the aquatic ecosystems would not affect us, but it will and it will be harsh.  It does not have to happen though!  There are ways we can slow down the process of climate change and save our aquatic ecosystems and our economy.  However, there are not enough people that are aware of the issue of climate change on aquatic ecosystems.  There needs to be more people informed.  Global warming is a huge issue of debate, but the facts showing the damage that is already being done on the aquatic ecosystems is not.  They are real facts about real damage that has already started.  We can stop this by getting more people involved in this issue.  The more people that know, the more people that can help.


Works Cited

Adams, S. B. 2011. Climate Change and Warmwater Aquatic Fauna. (November 2nd, 2011). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. Web. 19 October 2016.

“DWP – Renewables Percentage Annual.”, Publisher, 10 June 2016. Web. 3 November 2016.

Hoegh-Guldberg, Ove, and John F. Bruno. “The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems.” Science 328.5985 (2010): 1523-528. Web. 19 October 2016.

Hughes, T. P., A. H. Baird, D. R. Bellwood, M. Card, S. R. Connolly, C. Folke, R. Grosberg, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, J. B. C. Jackson, J. Kleypas, J. M. Lough, P. Marshall, M. Nyström, S. R. Palumbi, J. M. Pandolfi, B. Rosen, and J. Roughgarden. “Climate Change, Human Impacts, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs.” Science 301.5635 (2003): 929-33. Web. 19 October 2016.

Kitch, Troy. “How Do Coral Reefs Benefit the Economy?” US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 November 2016.

Mcleod, Elizabeth, Kenneth RN Anthony, Andreas Andersson, Roger Beeden, Yimnang Golbuu, Joanie Kleypas, Kristy Kroeker, Derek Manzello, Rod V Salm, Heidi Schuttenberg, and Jennifer E Smith. “Preparing to Manage Coral Reefs for Ocean Acidification: Lessons from Coral Bleaching.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11.1 (2013): 20-27. Web. 19 October 2016.

Mitchell, John F. B., Jason Lowe, Richard A. Wood, and Michael Vellinga. “Extreme Events Due to Human-Induced Climate Change.” Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 364.1845 (2006): 2117-133. Web. 19 October 2016.

Nielsen, Kate. “What Species Live in and around Coral Reefs?” US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, 12 Mar. 2014.

“San Francisco Communitywide Greenhouse Gas Inventory.”, Publisher, 25 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 November 2016.

Traill, Lochran W. et al. “Mechanisms Driving Change: Altered Species Interactions and Ecosystem Function through Global Warming.” Journal of Animal Ecology, vol. 79, no. 5, 2010, pp. 937–947.

Wrona, Frederick J., Terry D. Prowse, James D. Reist, John E. Hobbie, Lucie M. J. Lévesque, and Warwick F. Vincent. “Climate Change Effects on Aquatic Biota, Ecosystem Structure and Function.” Ambio 35.7 (2006): 359-69. Web. 19 October 2016.










One response to “The Effects of Climate Change on Aquatic Ecosystems

  1. Very interesting topic! We seem to get so caught up in our own issues on land we forget about the oceans that surround us. I absolutely agree that is it is vital for basic life that we preserve these ecosystems. I thought it was a great point that you made that if the smaller species dying off, the larger predators will die off as well. Nicely done!


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