How is climate change affecting the ocean?

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The ocean and climate are inextricably linked - the ocean plays a crucial role in maintaining the Earth's climate and ocean life is vulnerable to climate change.

As human activities produce too much carbon dioxide, much of it is absorbed by the ocean. As a result, ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, threatening the fundamental building blocks of life in the ocean.

The ocean is also rising, sea ice melting and deep sea currents possibly changing—all may have serious ramifications for coastal communities around our planet. What do these impacts mean for marine life? Coral reefs - important food, medicinal, economic, aesthetic, and cultural resources are particularly vulnerable to these effects of climate change. Corals, the building blocks of the intricate reef community, are actually a collection of tiny animals (coral polyps) living in limestone skeletons. Coral polyps die—in a process called "bleaching"—in the warmer waters and their limestone skeletons dissolve in the more acidic waters. Already, scientists are observing record coral reef die-offs, but if action is taken on climate change now, there remains hope for these magnificent systems that sustain such a diversity of life. Other ocean life and ecosystems are also at risk - due to warmer waters, salmon populations are disappearing from their historical ranges, invasive species and diseases are spreading into new waters, and marine mammals such as blue whales and polar bears continue to face decreased food supplies as a result of climate change and its cascading effects.

Why should we care?

We live in an interconnected world, with each one of us depending directly or indirectly on a healthy ocean. Coastal communities, in particular, will be harmed most by climate change, with direct negative impacts on millions of people around the world.

In addition to lost income and food resources, low lying coastal communities will be inundated by rising sea levels. Certain regions will have to adjust to very different weather patterns due to likely changes in deep ocean currents that help to regulate our climate. Whether we live at the ocean's edge or far inland we all have to face the question of the ocean legacy we will pass on to future generations. Will our children's grandchildren be able to make memories over tasty soft-shelled clam and blue crab? Will they have the opportunity to enjoy sharing the planet with the colorful coral reefs, magnificent blue whales, and polar bears as we do?

Most people are simply unaware of how much they depend on the ocean and innocent to how their daily actions and climate change are impacting the ocean.

By celebrating World Ocean Day with people all over the world, we can make a clear statement that no matter where we live we all share one world ocean, with our fate inextricably tied to the future health of our ocean. World Ocean Day 2008 is a powerful opportunity to bring local and global attention to the impact climate change is having on the ocean, and coral reefs in particular, what that impact will mean for marine and human life, and how we can all make simple yet important changes to reduce our CO2 emissions, halt climate change, and preserve our children's ocean legacy. How can I take personal action now? • Sign the World Ocean Day petition. • Check out the World Ocean Day action poster for simple things you can do to cut your CO2 emissions and celebrate the ocean. Where can I learn more? You can learn more about climate change and the ocean, coral reefs, marine mammals and other issues discussed here by browsing our collection of the best aquatic and ocean conservation websites.

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