By now, most of us are aware of the disastrous effect rising ocean temperatures have on aquatic species. Coral reefs are the gold standard example of this phenomenon, as global warming has been linked to an increase disease in various coral communities throughout the world. But coral polyps (the organisms that live in coral reefs) aren’t the only creatures that seem to be more sensitive to disease as ocean temperatures increase.
As the New Haven Register reported this week, the local lobster supply in the Long Island Sound are experiencing a “die-out” this year, which may be linked to global warming.
[Eric] Smith[, Connecticut's director of marine fisheries,] said scientists believe warmer water in the Sound was a key trigger in the 1999 lobster die-off, causing stress that turned other factors such as pesticides and pollution lethal. The Sound’s lobster population still hasn’t recovered from the 1999 event, Smith said, making the current die-off more critical.
Now, the story isn’t quite so black and white as this quote makes it seem. There are a lot of factors that come into play here, including water quality, pesticide use, and the possibility that unknown pathogens are playing a role. But, as Gourmet reports, Long Island Sound lobsters happen to be living “at the extreme southern edge of their species’ range,” which means that they already subsist in an environment that is at the warm end of what their species can take. This is suspiciously similar to the coral reef situation, where coral polyps have been shown to be quite sensitive to ocean temperature for this very same reason.
Ok, so you’re probably wondering what exactly the point of this diatribe / news regurgitation is, precisely. Well, when I was playing at science journalism early last year (NOT something a working scientist should do, by the way, unless you know what corners you’re willing to cut in explaining a particular phenomenon), I started talking to local fishermen, and found out that this is something the smaller fisheries are quite concerned about. They can see the supply of certain at-risk populations dwindling, and in some cases, overfishing isn’t the only cause.
So while we may moan about the inconvenience of bringing along a list of acceptable fish when we head to the fish market or our favorite seafood restaurant, I think it’s worth the trouble. The same goes for trying to reduce our carbon footprint, in order to at least minimize the amount of damage we, as a species, have inflicted on the planet. There are so many factors at stake in this — a fisherman’s livelihood, a local dish, a healthy ocean, a livable world — that it’s about time we stop waiting for definitive proof of cause and effect when it comes to global warming. We already know we’re having an impact on the planet. Isn’t it time we stop asking how much more we can get away with?
No, the picture above is not quite appropriate. I took it from the Staten Island Ferry a while back, and it’s of NY Harbor. But I couldn’t find a clear picture of the Sound in my collection, so it’ll have to do…