“Across the United States, changes in our climate and our oceans are having very real and profound effects on communities, businesses, and the natural resources we depend on — including our economically valuable fisheries …” declared a NOAA Fisheries webpage updated in June. “Understanding these changes and measuring their impacts is an important part of NOAA Fisheries’ mission.”
Researchers have more than once warned of “dead zones” and toxic algal blooms as a consequence of changing climatic conditions. Ocean temperatures are increasing, and this in turn encourages a new set of biochemical processes.
Professor Hollibaugh and a colleague report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that over the course of eight summers they measured peaks of nitrite, alongside massive increases in the numbers of the microorganisms that produce it, in coastal waters off Georgia.
The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Canada and is a key marine environment and important to commercial fishing. Blue mussels are used in seafood dishes and worth millions to the economy of some New England states, but are also important in moving bacteria and toxins out of the water.
In the vast and chaotic climate systems that govern our atmosphere and oceans, making sense of how one change — diminished sea ice — affects places or people thousands of miles away is a task of such extraordinary complexity that it strains even the most sophisticated supercomputers.
So the question is: Why have there been so many sightings outside late summer and early fall, the typical peak season for sharks?
The popular theory is that unseasonably warmer water has brought the change, but experts say it is much more complex than that.
The damage on the barrier reef is part of a global mass bleaching event that has hit corals hard in many places including Hawai, Fiji and New Caledonia. It is only the third global event in recorded history, with the other two occurring in 1998 and 2010.
Veteran diver Steve Lackey, an instructor at Sub-Surface Progression Dive Shop in Fort Bragg, said, “I try not to be an alarmist, but it is pretty unprecedented, in my opinion.”
This time of year, he’s accustomed to seeing small sprouts of kelp begin to appear on the ocean floor, a harbinger of the spring and summer growing season. This year, there are none, he said.
“I don’t remember quite this clean, this kind of scoured rock, with hungry invertebrates,” he said.