Environment Media release

Media release: Changing oceans deeply troubling for Atlantic Canada

Lobster/Eelgrass Image: Nick Hawkins Photography

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 25, 2019

K’JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – As the world reacts to dire new warnings contained in today’s IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is focusing on how changing oceans could impact Atlantic Canada and what we can do about it.

“Atlantic Canada’s way of life is so closely tied to the ocean,” says Shannon Arnold, Senior Marine Coordinator, EAC. “The impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems could severely affect our livelihoods, food security, conservation efforts, and folks living in our coastal communities.”

The IPCC report painstakingly demonstrates how excess carbon in our atmosphere is driving rapid ocean warming, acidification, de-oxygenation and sea-level rise around the world. Many of these changes adversely affect important marine species with ripple effects on entire ecosystems. These impacts also put coastal communities at risk and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.  

What the report means for Atlantic Canada:

  1. Biodiversity loss and degraded food webs: Climate change will adversely affect the ability of some species to survive in local waters. For example, as the ocean becomes more acidic, some corals, plankton and shellfish will be less able to grow their hard outer structures, which limits their survival. Meanwhile, agricultural run-off, (for example around PEI) is choking off the oxygen supply of entire food webs. Warming waters make this effect even worse.
  1. What, where and how we fish: A warming ocean will cause commercially important species to migrate, and we’ll have to adapt. Some species, such as lobster, are already moving north in search of colder waters. While this has caused a short-term boom in the lobster industry, coastal communities that rely on abundant lobster populations (e.g., southwest Nova Scotia), could be especially vulnerable in the long-term if this northward movement continues. At the same time, destructive fishing methods continue to damage fragile sea-bottom habitats, which makes ecosystems and fisheries even more vulnerable to climate change.
  2. Small-scale fisheries: Commercially valuable species are beginning to show up in different areas, presenting challenges for management across borders and between fleets. As tensions rise over shifting fishing grounds, small scale fisheries often have limited financial capacity to adapt and may be impacted most. 
  1. Conservation planning: As species migrate to adapt to rapidly changing oceans, they will be exposed to new threats. For example, as plankton distribution off Atlantic Canada shifts in response to warming waters, North Atlantic right whale feeding grounds are shifting too, subjecting the endangered whales to increased ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. These kinds of problems will become more common as climate change progresses, and dynamic management solutions will be needed to solve them.
  2. Life on the coast: Atlantic Canada is experiencing major sea-level rise impacts. We are facing more frequent and extreme weather events, storm surge, coastal flooding and accelerated coastal erosion. These impacts will only grow as climate change worsens. At the same time, we are losing important coastal habitats like eelgrass meadows and salt marshes, which can buffer our shores from some of these effects.

As the IPCC report makes clear, the pace of change that we are seeing is unprecedented. In Atlantic Canada, the effects on our culture, economy and communities will be sweeping. We must act quickly and decisively.

“We still have time to turn things around, but it will require major changes in how we manage our fisheries along with our coastal and marine habitats,” says Jordy Thomson, Marine Science and Conservation Coordinator, EAC. 

The EAC is urging our governments to take the following immediate actions to help turn the tide on the climate crisis:

  1. Stay below 1.5 C: Reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is vital for limiting global warming and its associated impacts on the ocean. All levels of government must take immediate, decisive action to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 C.
  2. End overfishing and habitat destruction: Healthy habitats and fish populations can buffer ocean ecosystems against the worst impacts of climate change, but overfishing and destructive gears have put many fish species and their homes at risk. The federal government must put an immediate stop to overfishing, move to low impact gear, and implement plans to rebuild depleted stocks as quickly as possible.
  3. Plan for ecosystem changes: We must take a just, adaptive and ecosystem-based approach to ocean management that considers, for example, how fish populations and ecosystems may respond to warming under different climate change scenarios. Fisheries authorities must address the vulnerability of fished species to climate change to effectively rebuild depleted stocks.
  4. Protect natural carbon sinks in the ocean: Salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and other marine habitats capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. In Atlantic Canada, these ecosystems have been badly degraded by coastal development. Federal and provincial governments must invest in protecting and restoring these natural carbon sinks along our coasts.
  5. Build adaptive capacity in our coastal communities: Coastal ecosystems like dune systems, tidal wetlands and estuaries help slow erosion and reduce the impact of extreme weather events on our shorelines. We must invest resources to better understand the risks associated with climate change. We must then implement adaptation actions and monitor outcomes while educating and informing citizens. In particular, communities need nature-based solutions for coastal adaptation and investment in restoration projects to preserve natural habitats. 
  6. Accountability for destructive companies and opportunity for impacted communities: We must ensure the cost of this crucial transition is not borne by those least responsible. Industrial corporations have made billions in profit by exploiting our planet’s natural resources and must play a central role in financing an equitable shift towards just and adaptive frameworks of governance. Opportunities flowing from this transition should favour those communities most impacted. 

For close to 50 years, the Ecology Action Centre has been working on critical environmental issues from biodiversity protection to climate change to environmental justice. We know that powerful things happen when people come together to demand change.

“The urgency of this crisis means that we can’t just wait for governments to respond”, says Nancy Anningson, EAC Coastal Adaptation Senior Coordinator. “People need to stand up and make their voices heard. On September 27th, School Strikes For Climate youth are inviting everyone to walk out of their homes, classrooms and workplaces to join their General Strike. We’re encouraging everyone who is able to join in and echo their demands for climate justice and emergency action from our governments to tackle the climate crisis”.You can locate a #ClimateStrike happening near you at https://globalclimatestrike.net/


For more information, please contact:
Jordy ThomsonMarine Science and Conservation Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre 

Nancy Anningson
Senior Coastal Adaptation Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre