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UK seas 'in peril' - says report


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UK seas 'in peril' - says report

Fishing and climate change are harming UK marine life, according to a report by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The report blames industrial activities, pollution, acidification and warming waters for the decline in certain sea species.

However, it does state that much of the open ocean is not affected by pollution and some contaminants are decreasing.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley says the problem requires a "new approach".

"Today's report suggests that asking new questions of our marine environment require a new approach," he stated. "This new approach will hopefully give us the answers we are looking for and help us plan for the long term.

"But what I can say with some certainty is that we are having an adverse effect on our marine life and climate change is certainly evident in our seas."

Charting Progress: An Integrated Assessment Of The State Of UK Seas provides the first integrated assessment, across the entire UK Continental Shelf, of how humans are affecting marine ecosystems.

Declining fish stocks

The report's main findings, which cover the Scottish and English coasts as far south as Flamborough Head, include:

Fish stocks are declining. Although the region continues to be one of the most productive fisheries in the UK, species like cod are on the brink of collapse

Sea surface temperatures have been rising since the 1970s, while surface salinity has been decreasing

Warm water species of plankton are increasing, while cold water species are decreasing.

As well as being a major source of food for fish, plankton play an important role in the "biological pump", a process that takes carbon from the atmosphere dissolved in the top layers of the ocean down into deep-sea sediments.

Without the pump, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be much higher.

The Continuous Plankton Recorder survey has been monitoring near surface plankton in the North Atlantic and North Sea for the past 70 years.

Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra, Howard Dalton, said: "The threat of climate change is becoming more certain. The Continuous Plankton Recorder is one of the most valuable long-term datasets monitoring these tiny organisms in our seas.

"The shift in plankton species is surprisingly large compared to movements of plants or birds on land.

"By understanding the movement of plankton, we are much better able to handle our fish resources."

In response to the report, Defra intends to do further research into the UK's marine environment.

As part of this initiative, it will set up a Marine Data & Information partnership and a Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, which "will help develop a better understanding of how climate change affects the marine environment", and help establish a more "holistic" management approach to marine ecosystems.

Wildlife advisory group English Nature said it "welcomes this step towards tackling the two most serious threats facing the sea: overexploitation of some marine species and the impacts of climate change".

Dr Dan Laffoley, the head of marine conservation at English Nature, said: "We back Defra's recommendation to make better use of information about our coasts and seas by pooling the expertise of all UK bodies which deal with the marine environment.

"This is the only way to gain a better understanding of the size of the problems we face. Then we can take informed action to safeguard our seas."

Story from BBC NEWS:


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Climate 'threatens' Arctic lakes

By Julianna Kettlewell

BBC News science reporter

Communities of creatures living in Arctic lakes are undergoing dramatic changes in response to climate warming, according to Canadian experts.

Groups of aquatic organisms in the Arctic show patterns of change over the last 150 years that are consistent with human-induced effects, they claim.

Shifts in the Arctic are likely to be indicative of wider reaching changes around the world, it is claimed.

Details appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

In their research paper, the team described the Arctic as the "canary of environmental change".

"Polar regions are expected to show the first signs of climatic warming, and are therefore considered sentinels of environmental change," said co-author Alexander Wolfe, from the University of Alberta, Canada.

"Unfortunately, long-term monitoring data are generally lacking in these areas which makes it difficult to determine the magnitude of past environmental changes."

Back in time

The Canadian-led team discovered what they call the "maybe irreversible effects of Arctic warming" in 55 lakes, covering five circumpolar countries extending halfway around the globe.

By analysing the sediments at the bottom of the lakes, they were able to "look back in time" to see what aquatic communities of algae, water fleas and insect larvae were like hundreds - sometimes thousands - of years ago.

"Lakes slowly accumulate sediments over time, so they are like a history book," said lead researcher John Smol, from Queen's University, Canada.

"We can reconstruct environments from the past when no one was actually measuring anything."

What they found was rather striking: the communities remained almost stable until the mid-1800s, when changes began to take hold. The most dramatic shift occurs in the last 30 years, the team claims.

"The timing of the changes is certainly consistent with human interference, and one of the major avenues is through climate warming," said biologist Dr Kathleen Ruhland, of Queen's University.

"This is another example of how humans are directly and indirectly affecting global ecology."

'100% change'

The actual nature of the changes varies, depending on the size of the lake and where it is located.

For example, some lakes have a richer biodiversity because they spend more time each year ice-free.

"In the higher Arctic, some of these lakes were frozen solid for 11 months of the year, but now they are only frozen for 10 months - so that is a 100% change," explained Professor Smol. "It is not surprising this has a dramatic effect on aquatic organisms."

Other deep lakes, which usually only thaw in shallow parts in the summer, are now thawing deeper. This means that organisms normally associated with deeper water are appearing for the first time.

'Major card'

Although the team is confident nobody can deny the changes are happening, they are aware some people might be unconvinced global warming is the cause.

For instance, pollution is also increasing, as is UV radiation - perhaps these factors could be responsible.

However, Professor Smol believes he can rule out these possibilities.

Not all Arctic areas are warming up. In fact, some places, like northern Quebec in Canada have remained remarkably stable, according to Professor Smol.

"In lakes in these areas, we don't see much change," Professor Smol told the BBC News website. "And this is a major card.

"Here we have a bunch of lakes that don't show the 'hockey stick' type changes we see in other lakes. If the changes were due to pollution, for example, you would also see them in these places. This makes a compelling case."

The organisms the team were analysing are the bedrock of the aquatic food chain in Arctic lakes. Therefore, Professor Smol believes, it is likely that there will be knock on effects higher up the food chain.

"All these organisms are food for other organisms higher up the food chain," he explained. "But unfortunately it is more difficult to study that because fish don't make good fossils."

Story from BBC NEWS:


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