The heat is on

Publication - 1 March, 2007
Europe needs to create an extensive network of nature reserves in the sea to protect against the consequences of global warming and help marine life survive the impacts of climate change. Predicted impacts of climate change on the marine environment include increasing temperatures, shrinking and shifting spawning grounds, changing currents, rising acidity caused by absorption of carbon dioxide, and rising sea levels and storms, threatening coastal ecosystems and habitats. Creating large-scale interconnected marine reserves to help the seas recover from their current, depleted state, after decades of damage caused by over-fishing and pollution.

The heat is on

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Executive summary: Our oceans and seas are in a perilous state: 77% of all fish stocks are now either fully or over-exploited. Placing large areas of ocean ‘off limits’ is vital to protect marine life, the complexity of which we still do not fully understand, and is crucial to underpin the ecosystem approach.

Human-induced global climate change has profound implications for both marine ecosystems and the many people who depend on them. In order to protect our oceans we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, eliminate unsustainable practices in ocean use and establish networks of large-scale marine reserves, which will help build the resilience of ocean ecosystems and improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change on marine systems.

Changes to the oceans and marine life are likely to be highly complex, including changes in sea temperature, sea level, currents and ocean chemistry. Moreover, negative feedback between climate change impacts and other human activities, particularly fishing pressure, will likely exacerbate climate-induced changes to marine ecosystems. In April 2007, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to issue its most urgent warning yet of the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. It is likely to link this warning to a call for action to reduce the negative impacts of global warming on marine ecosystems.

Through the forthcoming adoption of the proposed Marine Strategy Directive, the European Union (EU) has a unique opportunity to lay the basis for a long overdue, coherent and dedicated instrument for marine protection, providing a first real chance to translate global and regional commitments into real action.

Num. pages: 12