Coral Sea: “Don’t worry about a couple of degrees” – professor

Warming of the oceans may not be as  terrible an experience for fish in some waters which are already warm — such as the Coral Sea —  according to a leading Australian ecologist,   of the University of Queensland, who says that, personally, he is not worried about an increase of couple of degrees in temperature.

Professor Hugh Possingham
Professor Hugh Possingham

“I’m a bit of a sceptic about some aspects of the importance of climate change — I’m not a sceptic about climate change happening — but  I think a lot of the short-lived species have the ability to rapidly evolve, at least to deal with 2degc or 3degC ,”  Professor Possingham told the SMC at an Auckland briefing on marine biodiversity.

“And a lot of the big species that can’t evolve quickly, like the whales and other cetaceans, and the big fish, have a lot of ability to adapt to climate change by moving where they feed, because there’s a lot of variability in the water temperature in the ocean.

“Personally, I don’t worry about a couple of degrees in something like the Coral Sea,” he said. “Places like Antarctica are probably more worrying, because there’s nowhere (for cold-loving fish) to go”.

But Professor Possingham said acidification of the oceans — an effect CSIRO scientists said last week was likely to be hurting food chains in the Southern Ocean by the winter of 2030 —  would be a problem in both warm and cold waters, and coral reefs would be disproportionately affected.  He noted there were relatively few reefs in the Coral Sea, where the Australian Government last week announced plans for a 900,000 square kilometres marine protected area.

“The whole debate about the impact of acidification — climate change and coral reefs — is raging, and some people see very imminent doom and gloom, with just 2degC  or 3degC (lift in average global temperatures) and 450 parts per million (of CO2 in the atmosphere),” Professor Possingham said. “Other people are a little bit more optimistic.  “Arguably, however, we  are tracking to a lot worse than that, and it is a big concern for coral reefs”.