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Climate change shrinks marine life richness near equator: study

Climate change shrinks marine life richness near equator: study

HAVANA (Reuters) - During some summers, as the Caribbean water temperatures climb, the luminous coral colonies of gold, green and blue that ring the island nation of Cuba give way to patches of skeletal white.

The technicolor streaks of darting tropical fish flash less frequently. The rasping sounds of lobsters go quiet.

While Cuba’s marine life has suffered from overfishing and pollution, there is mounting evidence that the warming of waters due to climate change may be taking a large toll as well -- both off the island’s coast and globally.

Research published Monday finds that the total number of open-water species declined by about half in the 40 years up to 2010 in tropical marine zones worldwide. During that time, sea surface temperatures in the tropics rose nearly 0.2 degree Celsius. (Study: bit.ly/31KA1mC)

“Climate change is already impacting marine species diversity distribution,” with changes being more dramatic in the Northern Hemisphere where waters have warmed faster, said study co-author Chhaya Chaudhary, a biogeographer at Goethe University.

While numerous factors like overfishing have impacted tropical species, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a strong correlation between species decline and rising temperature.

Fish species diversity tended to either plateau or decline at or above 20C (68 Fahrenheit), the researchers found.

‘BLINK OF AN EYE’

While past studies have shown that ocean warming is driving some species to migrate to cooler waters, the new study attempts to gauge that impact more broadly -- analyzing data on 48,661 marine species including fish, mollusks, birds and corals since 1955. (Data source: obis.org/about)

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