Large changes in ocean ecosystems forecast

Sept. 24, 2012 at 5:44 PM
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PALO ALTO, Calif., Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Pacific Ocean ecosystems will see major shifts by the end of the century due to climate change with an impact on many marine species, U.S. researchers say.

Some critical ocean habitats could undergo significant changes in location, moving more than 600 miles from where they are now, a study reported in Nature Climate Change said.

Large animals such as loggerhead turtles, sharks and blue whales may face the harshest impacts of climate change, while coastal communities and industries could be affected since top predator habitat shifts can result in the displacement of fisheries and ecotourism such as whale watching, the researchers said.

"For species already stressed by overfishing or other human impacts, increased migration time and loss of habitat could be a heavy blow," Elliott Hazen, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher, said.

The researchers analyzed data from the "Tagging of Pacific Predators" project, in which electronic tags placed on 23 species from 2000 to 2009 revealed insight into migration patterns and hot spots of predator species in the northern Pacific.

In some cases, they said, predicted losses in essential habitat from ongoing climate change ranged as high as 35 percent.

"But if we can build some plausible scenarios of how marine ecosystems may change, this may help efforts to prioritize and proactively manage them," said Hazen, who is also affiliated with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University.

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