Climate Change and Marine Conservation
The 2015 MCCIP Report Card on marine biodiversity legislation showed that climate change is likely to have significant impacts on the UK’s marine protected areas and their features but identified a lack of guidance on how protected features should be managed to build resilience to climate change.
MCCIP has therefore worked with some of the UK’s leading experts from academia and nature conservation agencies to produce a series of cards on how to manage protected species and habitats to help them adapt to climate change. There are seven cards, published in October 2018, each with a focus on a specific habitat or species, selected because they are known to be vulnerable to climate change impacts. Their conservation also helps support wider plant and animal communities, provides nursery grounds for fish and shellfish, and stores carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change effects.
There are 48,226 hectares of saltmarsh along Welsh, English and Scottish coastlines, delivering many natural benefits, including coastal protection and carbon sequestration. Marshes support a high variety of species including invertebrates, birds and plants, providing vital refugia and feeding grounds.
Maerl beds are formed by calcareous red seaweeds. The loosely interlocking beds support diverse communities of plants and animals such as seaweeds, sea firs, sea urchins, brittlestars, starfish, sea anemones, bivalve molluscs, scallops, algal flora and burrowing species. Maerl is potentially vulnerable to a wide range of climate change impacts, most notably the effects of pH changes on their skeletons.
Coral gardens are dense aggregations of one or more coral species. They predominantly include soft corals, but can include individual hard corals. Coral gardens provide a home for many other animals such as basket stars, brittle-stars and feather stars, bivalves, shrimp-like animals and deep-water fish. Presently, it is still relatively unknown as to how climate change may impact coral gardens.
Sandeels are an important trophic link between plankton and predatory fish, seabirds and mammals, and support a large fishery in the North Sea. Climate change can have a direct impact on the reproductive timing of sandeels and the phenology of the plankton prey they depend on, increasing the likelihood of a mismatch between sandeel larvae and their prey.
Seagrasses are amongst the planet’s most effective natural ecosystems for capturing and storing carbon; but if degraded, they could release stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. The beds also provide habitats for species of conservation importance such as stalked jellyfish and seahorses.
Horse mussels are large, long-lived, slow-growing bivalve molluscs, capable of forming dense aggregations. The structural complexity of the beds and increases in organic material can increase local food and habitat availability, making beds capable of sustaining diverse biotic communities, including red seaweeds, crabs, scallops, whelks, brittlestars and starfish. The beds may also be important for some commercial species including whiting, poor cod, queen scallops and common whelks.
Saline lagoons have been identified as one of the most vulnerable habitats to climate change impacts, with their physical, chemical and ecological characteristics all likely to be affected. They are complex and dynamic habitats that support a number of rare species of invertebrates and plants as well providing a highly important resource for large numbers of birds that use the habitat for feeding, nesting and roosting at high tide.
The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership would like to express its sincere gratitude to the following expert reviewers for assessing the report cards. We greatly appreciate the contribution of all reviewers, which is crucial to reporting process:
· Alexandra Cunha, JNCC
· Bhavani Narayanaswamy, SAMS
· Bob Furness, University of Glasgow
· Matt Service, AFBINI Service
· Nick Kamenos, University of Glasgow
· Stewart Angus, SNH
Photo: © SNH, Graham Saunders