Experts say record-breaking ocean temps are hurting local sea life

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SAN DIEGO — A sobering warning on Earth Day: Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography say record-breaking ocean temperatures and toxin levels are having an extremely harmful effect on marine life.

“The ocean is not just for recreation; we want it there for recreation but it is (also) sustaining a ton of life and it can be really hard for us to think deeply about all of the life we don’t see,” Dr. Clarissa Anderson told FOX 5.

Anderson is the executive director of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System at Scripps and primarily researches algal blooms, which produce neurotoxins harmful to ocean animals.

“We see the manifestation of that all the time with sea lions and other animals stranded on the beach with lots of neurological symptoms or seeming disoriented, or we see birds that are disoriented,” she explained.

While the average San Diegan won’t see most algal blooms, the glowing blue waves generated by bioluminescence are an example most have at least seen in pictures. People flock to the coast just to get a glimpse of them — the phenomenon is beautiful, but it is also toxic.

File – Bioluminescent tide in San Diego in April and May of 2020. Though beautiful in the dead of night, during the day these blooming phytoplankton are less than stunning. They often turn ocean water red and murky, and emit a distasteful smell of decay that comes from the algae starving the water of oxygen, which is harmful for sea life. (Photo: Kevin Key/Getty)

Up until 2020, Dr. Anderson and other scientists weren’t really worried about it. That changed with a particularly deadly season.

“We had all of those fish dying on the beach as a result of that bloom that lasted a good two months [last year], which was record-breaking,” Anderson said.

Anderson said its not just about the animals that observably died due to the bloom — there are many unanswered questions. For example: sea lions retain a lot of the toxins caused by the algal blooms and white sharks eat sea lions. How does that impact the shark? They don’t wash up onto the beach — but will they die and fall off of the ecosystem?

Last year’s bioluminescence caused animals to suffocate. “We actually hit zero oxygen for an entire week at Scripps Pier,” Anderson explained.

Many want to know what is causing the increase in toxins, along with rising water temperatures.
“Is this connected to global temperature change, due to greenhouse gas carbon or other emissions? The answer is starting to become almost overwhelmingly: ‘Yes,'” Anderson said.

The next big question: Can we reverse or curb the rising temperatures and increased toxins? Experts say it’s possible, but it will be complicated and take concerted effort.

“It requires that we really scale back on a global level, and that comes down to the cars we drive (and) the planes we fly in,” Anderson said.

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