UBC study finds marine life relocating to colder waters

UBC study finds marine life relocating to colder waters

Photo Courtesy Nasa Goddard Photo and Video

Photo Courtesy Nasa Goddard Photo and Video

A recent study, co-authored by UBC marine zoology professor Mary O’Connor, found that marine species worldwide are relocating towards colder waters due to climate change.

The study examined 857 species and found that marine species were moving towards the poles at a rate of 72 kilometres per decade on average, creating ecosystems far outside the norm. Most fish are relocating at an average rate of 277 kilometres per decade, and phytoplankton are moving 470 kilometres per decade. Compare this to land species, who are relocating at six kilometres per decade.

B.C. does not appear to be escaping these changes.

Jumbo squid, for example, are moving up from the tropics into the waters off of the southwestern B.C. coast. According to O’Connor, this change will disrupt local food chains.

“When we look at who eats jumbo squid and who is eaten by jumbo squid, it’s very different here in B.C. than in the tropics,” O’Connor said. “It’s very likely that we will see extinctions of prey. However, we don’t know which species will go. And we will probably only know when it happens.”

Another aspect that concerned O’Connor about the study was the lack of data available from Canadian marine systems.

“We had 1,700 examples [in the study] of marine biological change from around the world. Very, very few were from Canada. Canada lags behind other developed countries in what we know about our oceans. We know our oceans are changing. But we can’t live with that unless we understand what’s happening. And we won’t understand if we don’t get out there and collect the data.”

O’Connor said she aims to rectify this lack of data in a current research project.

The findings from the study will be incorporated into a report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, a recognized authority on climate change endorsed by the United Nations.