An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

ClimateWatch Marine launched!

ClimateWatch Marine banner

On 8 June 2011, ClimateWatch Marine was launched in Perth, WA. Building on the existing suite of ClimateWatch indicator species, ClimateWatch Marine has added four iconic whale species to the program; humpback whales, southern right whales, pygmy blue whales and orcas (killer whales).

As Curt Jenner, Managing Director for the Centre for Whale Research (WA) Inc. describes “Whales (cetaceans) are the “canaries in the coal mine” that will alert us to fundamental changes in the oceans food web. They are large, easily monitored animals that provide us with an early warning system on the potential decline in ocean productivity, caused by changes in our climate.”

We thought we’d share some facts and figures around the launch of ClimateWatch Marine.Humpback Whale - courtesy of Centre for Whale Research

Our Coastal Marine Ecosystems

  • As an island nation, our coastlines and marine ecosystems play an important role in our social, economical and national identity. Australia has over 56 000 km of coastline and we claim over 6 million square kilometres of ocean (almost twice our land mass) (Geosciences Australia).
  • Our coastal and marine ecosystems are valuable commodities, apart from providing essential ecosystem services such as purifying our air and removing our waste, they generate considerable wealth through sectors such as tourism, fisheries and shipping. The Great Barrier Reef alone contributes over 2 billion dollars of direct revenue to the Queensland economy (QLD Government).
  • Globally, fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of an estimated 540 million people, or eight percent of the world population. People have never eaten as much fish and more people than ever are employed in or depend on fisheries (FAO-UN, 2011).

The Impact of Climate Change on our Coastal and Marine Ecosystems

  • The warming of the climate system is now unequivocal, and despite the causes, the effects will considerably alter our coastal and marine ecosystems (IPCC 2007).
  • Rising atmospheric greenhouse gases are warming the oceans and increasing ocean acidity. Increasing air and sea temperatures are melting polar ice caps causing sea levels to rise.Orca (Killer Whale) - courtesy of David Donnelly
  • Both warmer water temperatures and increasing sea levels drive stronger ocean currents that can persist for longer periods of the year, enabling tropical species to survive in southern waters and pushing southern species further south (CSIRO Marine Report Card, 2009). Many species have already begun the move and with no more coastline after Tasmania, many southern species will disappear from our coasts all together. Altered currents may also change the productivity of our oceans, having a direct effect on the number of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals the ocean can support.
  • Even small changes in sea level, may reduce the size of available habitat for many species that live on rocky shorelines, in estuaries and coastal lagoons.
  • More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase the acidity of the ocean, reducing growth rates of corals and molluscs, possibly making them more susceptible to disease and altering the dynamics of food chains (CSIRO Marine Report Card, 2009).
  • Change in ocean currents, temperatures and increasing sea levels means our marine creatures will need to adapt by altering where they live, feed and when they reproduce.

What can you do?

“Citizen scientists play a very important role as we do not have enough dedicated scientists to monitor different Southern Right Whale - courtesy of David Donnellyareas.” Dr Lynda Chambers, Senior Researcher, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research – Bureau of Meteorology and ClimateWatch Science and Technical Advisor.

  • Participate in ClimateWatch Marine: we need your help to observe and record the location and behaviour of our precious marine life.
  • By helping scientists to collect data you will be directly contributing to the research that is monitoring the effects of climate change on our planet.

If you haven’t already, register with ClimateWatch and start recording on the range of species, including the whales and jellies for the marine component, and enter your observations online!