Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Biodiversity, Climate Change, and the Attack of the Ocean Cockroaches
Earlier today I wrote about a new report that shows that in the last fifty years humanity has wiped out 60% of the mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles who share this planet with us.
And I quoted scientists who said that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.
So I thought I'd share this story where both climate change and the destruction of biodiversity are both combining to devastate coastal waters.
By triggering an invasion of the so called ocean cockroaches.
Five years ago, assigning wickedness to the purple urchin, a shellfish the size of a plum with quarter-inch spikes, would have been absurd.
That was before the urchins mowed down Northern California’s kelp forests.
First humans reduced the numbers of sea otters who feed on the purple urchins, then climate change is believed to have killed off another urchin predator, the massive sunflower starfish.
Then a blob of warm water reduced the process of upwelling that brings up nutrients from the depths to fertilize the kelp fields.
When the kelp started to die, so did the edible abalone snails who depend on it for food and the larger red urchins.
And the worst could be still to come.
Locals worry that rockfish — like sculpin, rock cod and red snapper — may be next. They spawn in the kelp forest. Worldwide, 100 species of rockfish rely on kelp, said Rebecca Johnson, who leads the California Academy of Sciences Citizen Science program.
The good news is that a new generation is taking over, and I believe it will be able to rebuild the world on a new foundation.
Before we are reduced to seeing the natural wonders we once took for granted, through the eye of a time machine.
There is at least one place in Northern California where visitors can still see what the bull kelp forests used to look like. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has a 100,000-gallon saltwater tank, designed to mirror the Northern California coast, where you can see abalone, urchins both purple and red, sunflower starfish and bull kelp bobbing near the surface.
It is beautiful, but it feels like a time machine.