At Dolphins Plus Bayside, marine mammal conservation is the heart and soul of our organization. When guests visit our natural dolphin habitat, they're provided with an educational briefing designed to educate them about climate change and other important challenges to marine mammals everywhere.
Dolphins Plus Bayside invites teachers around the world to join us in inspiring the next generation of marine advocates! By teaching your students about issues such as ocean acidification, sea level rise, and habitat loss, you can play an invaluable role in reshaping the world of tomorrow.
Join us for an overview of what you need to know about each of these key challenges, as well as what you and your students can do to help promote marine mammal conservation. We would also be thrilled to have your school group visit our facility and encourage interested groups to reach out to our education coordinator Marylou@DolphinsPlus.com for more details!
Climate Change and Marine Mammals: An Overview?
While many people have heard of climate change, learning how it works can go a long way toward understanding its impact. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Commission recently published a study evaluating the effects of climate change on marine mammals in US waters. They identified increasing atmospheric carbon as the main culprit behind climate change in the world's oceans.
Understanding what's going on starts with knowing that carbon is an essential element found in all living things, it is the chemical backbone of life on earth. It's in our DNA, in the carbohydrates and fat in the food we eat, and in the air we breathe in the form of Carbon Dioxide or CO2.
As humans, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2, while plants breathe in CO2 and release oxygen. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun, allowing the earth to remain warm instead of freezing over.
The amount of carbon on earth is static, it is the same amount we have always had. It travels from the atmosphere into organisms and back into the atmosphere. This Carbon Cycle has historically enabled the earth to keep the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere balanced. This cycle changed during the Industrial Revolution when humans began burning large amounts of fossil fuels that were formed from the stored energy of plants and animals that died millions of years ago. Carbon that had been buried in the earth for millions of years was being released into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. For the first time in history, the planet began having a hard time keeping the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at a reasonable level, resulting in what we now call climate change.
Oceans have always played an important role in carbon regulation because they are what are known as carbon sinks, meaning they absorb more carbon than they release. With increased carbon in the atmosphere, the world's oceans are now struggling to absorb more carbon than ever before, which is having profound impacts on the marine mammals that call them home.
Ocean Acidification and Marine Mammals
Climate change is actively contributing to declining pH levels in oceans around the world through an effect known as ocean acidification. When carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean, it begins to undergo a chemical change. When you combine seawater and carbon dioxide, you get H2CO3 or carbonic acid. Thanks to this chemical reaction and the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans, we are experiencing increased hydrogen ions in the ocean resulting in a decrease in pH. Scientists estimate that, at this rate, the pH of the ocean’s surface waters could be 7.8 by the end of the century, the lowest level in millions of years.
Ocean acidification threatens the ecosystem that the world’s oceans have maintained for millions of years. Higher levels of acidity can lead to a decrease in the ions that both shellfish and coral reefs need to develop.
A decrease in the numbers of either could lead to a ripple effect on the many marine species that count on shellfish and the fish that live in coral reefs for food. One study suggests that ocean acidification may even present major struggles for seals and sea lions when it comes to reproduction and survival.
Sea Level Rise and Habitat Loss Among Marine Mammals
Climate change is also causing a rise in the world's sea levels for several reasons. The first is that the more CO2 oceans absorb, the warmer they become, which causes them to expand.
This extra heat is also causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and be absorbed into the ocean's waters. This has created extra difficulties for many Arctic marine mammals such as walruses, polar bears, and certain species of seals that rely on sea ice as an essential part of their habitat.
But rising sea levels are also affecting marine animals in warmer climates. Rising sea levels are eroding beaches that have traditionally been used as breeding grounds and habitats for a variety of different sea creatures.
The changes behind rising sea levels are also upsetting natural ocean currents, which contribute to everything from marine life migration patterns to heat distribution. Air-breathing marine animals such as manatees, whales, turtles, and dolphins, are getting redistributed closer to areas where they are more likely to get caught in fishing gear or hit by boats.
But the dangers of rising sea level threats also extend to humans. By 2100 the World Economic Forum predicts up to 4100 million people are in danger of losing their homes or livelihoods as a direct result of rising sea levels.
Conservation Strategies for Protecting Marine Mammals from Climate Change
Marine mammal conservation presents plenty of challenges. The good news is that advocates at all levels are working to promote solutions. Here’s several ways people are contributing to preserving our planet’s oceans and marine life.
Marine Protected Areas
Marine protected areas or MPAs are exactly what they sound like - these areas are protected by various laws designed to protect the ecosystems, marine life, and resources that they contain. Organizations like the National MPA Center have worked to ensure that 26% of the water areas in the United States are now classified as MPAs.
The MPA Center also works with other organizations from all over the world that are also dedicated to reducing climate change and preserving the world’s oceans. MPA also offers a wide variety of educational resources, activities, and programs.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
The key to tackling climate change will be reducing carbon emissions on a global scale. While it may seem like a huge goal, it’s one that can happen with small efforts of billions of people all doing their part.
The good news is that you don’t have to take out a loan for an electric vehicle to start creating change today! Things as simple as remembering to turn off the lights or power down your laptop are examples of small ways everyone can contribute to stopping climate change.
In addition to welcoming visitors to explore our natural dolphin habitat, at Dolphins Plus Bayside we support our local marine mammal stranding and response programs. Check out DPMMR for plenty of great free resources for anyone interested in marine mammal conservation.
Understanding how climate change works and how it contributes to challenges like ocean acidification, sea level rise, and habitat loss is the first step toward marine mammal conservation. We hope you’ll join Dolphins Plus Bayside in promoting the fight against climate change and explore more ways you can contribute to healthier oceans!