How the climate crisis is affecting our oceans

Climate Change and the ocean

This year, Australia has borne the brunt of extreme weather events that have once again highlighted the severity of the climate crisis we are facing. The 2021 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicated that Australia has already warmed by 1.4 degrees celsius as the Earth's temperature has steadily increased over the past four decades.

A recent report published on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website cites that even if we stop using all fossil fuels right now and manage to keep our global temperature increase below 2 degrees, the damage has been done and our sea levels are still expected to rise by up to 30 centimetres by 2100. Our ocean temperatures have increased, marine habitats and species have been irreparably damaged, and further coastal flooding is inevitable. The US EPA report shows that our ocean waters have consistently increased in temperature over the decades which has caused significant changes in marine ecosystems. Further increases will lead to further changes to reef habitats and fish populations.

The NOAA Sea Level Rise Technical Report indicates that even if we stop emitting RIGHT NOW, we’re still going to get a two foot increase in sea level rise.

If we KEEP emitting, we’ll get up to another five feet on top of that.

Scientists predict that the ice shelf off Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic will fall into the ocean sometime in the next five years. This will mean an immediate sea level rise of two feet in an instant, in addition to what they’ve already predicted. At that point, we’ll lose most beaches in Australia. Most coastal towns will be gone due to storm surges and huge tides.

Already, the extreme increase in CO2 emissions that have warmed the ocean, affected ocean currents and increased sea levels has had devastating consequences for Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Sea temperatures in the UNESCO world heritage listed region have caused coral bleaching and the destruction of marine environments. Ice caps are melting which will cause the sea level to rise even more. This reduces the salinity of the ocean, further affecting the ecosystems that exist within its depth and climate patterns around the world.

Real life examples, too close for comfort

The executive director of NGIS Australia, Nathan Eaton, said: “By 2050, sea level change of 15cm to 30cm will be unavoidable.” NGIS Australia has developed Coastal Risk Australia, in partnership with FrontierSI. It’s a free interactive map based on scientific modelling which allows people to see how their coastal communities will be impacted by rising sea levels, according to the IPCC's latest projections.

According to their data, many of the beaches that Australians take for granted will disappear if sea levels rise in accordance with current projections. Bells Beach, currently putting Australia on the map as part of the global surfing circuit, will be underwater. The same goes for the Melbourne bayside suburb St Kilda. Weekends driving to Wye River on the Great Ocean Road will be things of the past.

Bondi and Byron Bay in NSW, Burleigh Heads and Whitehaven in Queensland, Cottesloe and Coogee in Western Australia, Glenelg in South Australia, Cairns and Port Douglas in Queensland, and Hindmarsh Island and Victor Harbour in South Australia will all suffer similar fates. Check out the coastal risk predictions for your suburb.

We’ve seen it already this year; suburban streets in Brisbane and Lismore resembling rivers, with homes only accessible by kayaks and jet skis. How much more do we need to see before we act?

Small Changes. Big impact.

There are groups, like Surfers For Climate, who are taking action now, rallying their members, and using their collective voices to push for change. The upcoming election gives them, and you, a chance to be vocal about the impact that the climate crisis is having on our oceans and shorelines. Surfers For Climate are pushing governments to stop drilling and mining for oil and gas in our oceans, to expand our surfing reserves and to clean up our marine environments.

Your purchasing decisions can have a significant impact. Buy renewable energy from Radian and do your bit for positive climate action. Electricity makes up roughly 33% of Australia’s total emissions. Use your choices as a bold statement to say no to fossil fuels.

Simple steps you can take to help the oceans right now

  • Whenever you leave the beach, take three pieces of rubbish with you.

  • Eat sustainable seafood

  • Reduce your carbon footprint

  • Vote with the ocean in mind

  • Use sunscreen that is reef safe 

Let us know some of your ideas about how little things can make a big difference to the health of our oceans.

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