People living in Ohio or Oklahoma or other places in the middle of the country probably do not think much about the fact that 71% of our planet’s surface is covered by water. Even folks living here on Puget Sound who are very aware of the inlets and channels and shorelines all around us may not spend much time pondering what is happening below the waves. But, with so many manifestations of climate change now dramatically apparent — extreme drought, horrendous wildfires, monster hurricanes, major flooding, glaciers melting, mountains without snow, summer temperatures reaching lethal levels — we should not ignore how the oceans are being altered by the rising temperatures.
The warming of the seas has raised acidity levels, seriously harmed coral reefs, disrupted the aquatic food chain and made the oceans less hospitable for all the creatures that live in the watery world. And now, off the coast of Washington and all along the West Coast, researchers are finding hypoxic areas that are growing bigger and lasting longer than ever before. What does hypoxic mean? It means lacking in oxygen. Crabs, fish and other denizens of the deep are literally suffocating because of low levels of dissolved oxygen in ocean water. And climate change is the culprit.
If this continues, the state’s fishing industry and Indian tribes with treaty rights to a significant share of fish will be imperiled. Sports fishermen and everyone with a small boat and a crab trap will find less and less to catch. Those silvery fish being tossed to customers down at Pike Place Market may one day be considered endangered species. Our food supply will shrink and become far less diverse.
Unlike the other manifestations of climate change, the damage being done just off our coastline cannot be seen; our view of the ocean seems unchanged. Yet, soon enough, we may be shocked to discover what is missing.
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