21 November 2012

Africa: Ocean-Dependent People Threatened

Photo: UN Climate Change Conference COP 18
The livelihoods of ocean-dependent peoples are being threatened.

press release

Doha — Fish are a primary source of protein for more than one billion of the poorest people on the planet. They are the most vulnerable to the effects of changing oceans due to adverse climate change. Warmer oceans push fish migration patterns closer to colder waters near the Earth's poles, and acidification resulting from warmer oceans destroys fish habitats, such as coral reefs.

This issue is highlighted in a recent report published by Oceana, the largest international organisation focused solely on ocean conservation, protecting marine ecosystems and endangered species. The report, "Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World" lists the countries that are most vulnerable to the rapid changes taking place in the nature of ocean life caused by climate change.

The report will be presented at COP18/CMP8 Doha, which starts later this month.

For poor coastal people, their "most significant source of protein is at risk," Matt Huelsenbeck, the author of the report and a marine scientist on the climate and energy campaign at Oceana, said.

According to the report, nations that have a low GDP per capita, high population growth rates and high levels of undernourishment are considered more vulnerable to losses in ocean-based protein within this study.

Ocean-based food security threats often receive less attention than land-based threats such as droughts. While the issue of fish migration shifts due to warming waters has received growing attention in recent years, the issue of ocean acidification has not received as much.

According to Mr. Huelsenbeck, Oceana first identified the impact of acidification in the last decade at an oyster farm in US state of Oregon. Its oyster production was severely hit and scientists finally discovered that it was because the carbon-rich waters had become more acidic, affecting the aquaculture.

"This is the fastest Ph [measure of acidity] change we have seen in 300 million years," Mr. Huelsenbeck said.

The report states that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the only way to limit global ocean acidification and the primary path to stop climate change. As delegations, observers and members of the international media converge on Doha for the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2012, the issue of reducing carbon emissions is one of the basic challenges facing the international community.

"We need specific carbon reduction," Mr. Huelsenbeck said, noting that current efforts were not sufficient.

With Qatar hosting the upcoming sessions, the issue of ocean-based food security is particularly pressing. Qatar sits on the Arabian Gulf, which will heat up faster than larger bodies of water, according to Mr.

Huelsenbeck. He said that the entire gulf region stands to lose 50 per cent of its fisheries by 2055, and Qatar stands to lose up to 63 per cent.

Mr. Huelsenbeck notes that there is still time to adjust food security strategy in richer countries. Poor fishermen, however, and those who are least able to adjust will need help to face these challenges.

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