Marine Ecosystems and Climate Change: The Bigger Picture

29 April 2009 | News story

New report highlights the impacts of climate change across the marine ecosystem

IUCN is delighted to support the latest climate change report card released yesterday by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP).

The MCCIP ‘ecosystem linkages’ report card highlights just how much climate change is affecting the UK marine environment and shows how impacts as wide ranging as melting sea ice and shifting species relate to each other, with potentially important consequences for mankind.

Key findings from the report published today include:

  • CO2 and Ocean Acidification – In the last 200 years, ocean acidity has increased by 30%, a rate much faster than in the last 65 million years. This has serious implications for marine ecosystems and climate regulation.
  • Arctic Sea-Ice – In the last decade there has been a 35% decrease in summer sea ice and a 15% reduction in winter sea-ice, leading to changes in habitats and ecosystems.
  • Changing Seas, Seabirds and Food Sources – Climate change has already caused changes in plankton, fish distribution and species composition in the seas around the UK. Declines in some seabird populations such as black legged kittiwakes, terns and skuas may continue as a result.
  • Non-Native Species – The likelihood that non-native species will establish and flourish in UK marine environments could be greater due to climate change, which will have an impact on fisheries and aquaculture e.g. sporadic poisoning and clogging of nets.
  • Coastal Economies and People – Many coastal communities will face both challenges (e.g. increased flood and erosion risks, declining traditional fisheries) and opportunities (e.g. new tourism patterns, new fisheries) through climate change.


The MCCIP report also provides a useful information source in support of IUCN’s publication: ‘Tools and Guidelines for Oceans and Climate Change Actions’ which is due to be launched later this year in time for Copenhagen.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Defra Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, said, “Climate change is happening now, and its impact on the marine environment affects all of us.

“The fight against climate change and protection of the natural environment are inextricably linked, and we are witnessing unprecedented effects on our seas.

“We also need to find out more about the scale and nature of the effects of ocean acidification on marine life and habitats, and I am pleased to announce today new research into its likely impacts.”

The UK’s ocean acidification program, a collaborative 5-year research program worth approximately £11m, will also be highlighted at the launch. This research program will focus on the North-East Atlantic (including European shelf and slope), Antarctic and Arctic Oceans.

“Ocean acidification is a global issue,” warns Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas.The dramatic changes that are occurring to the ocean’s chemistry pose a severe threat to marine organisms which will have a knock-on effect on food webs and ecosystems.”

Understanding the impacts of climate change on the oceans is a critical priority for our future wellbeing. By taking a new ‘bigger picture’ approach, we can start to show how the interconnected nature of the marine ecosystem magnifies the many discrete impacts of climate change.

The MCCIP was launched in March 2005 as a partnership between the UK Government, its agencies, scientists, and NGOs. The principal aim is to develop a long term approach to understanding and communicating the implications of climate change in our seas. The 2009 report is the assimilation of scientific knowledge, presented in one accessible and actionable format to enable the results to be quickly and easily understood and used by policy advisors, decision makers, ministers, Parliament, and the devolved administrations.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Climate change impacts in the Arctic are likely to have important implications for the UK, as a result the changes in global climate system and North-Atlantic ecosystems. Thinning of Arctic sea-ice will also affect access to natural resources in the Arctic and open up shipping routes.
  • The oceans are an enormous store of carbon, substantially greater than on land or in the atmosphere, and helps regulate the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Reduced buffering capacity of the ocean to take up CO2 will increase the amount of CO2 retained in the atmosphere.
  • Economically speaking, non-natives can have an impact on fisheries and aquaculture (fish farms).
  • Relative sea-level rise will increase the frequency and intensity of floods and coastal erosion which will have direct impacts on coastal economies and populations. This could have important implications for coastal defense costs, landscape quality, public safety, tourism, recreation activities, property and infrastructure loss.

Detailed briefings on all the topics covered in the report card can be found on the MCCIP website 

The MCCIP Secretariat is contactable on 01502 524508 and office@mccip.org.uk