Plymouth plankton

UK Reports 70% Of UK Plankton Has Gone Missing

Scientists Highlight A Catastrophe Taking Place With UK’s Plankton

60 years of data show 70% of the vital ocean plankton have simply vanished

This plankton that live mostly in vast ocean pastures are disappearing, and not disappearing due to the ‘usual ocean suspects’, ‘over-fishing’.

Yet they alone as the grass of ocean pastures are what feed all fish, or what few fish can survive on these UK ocean pastures that have become ever more desolate ocean deserts.

We can and must restore their ocean pastures to their recent condition of health and abundance

The image at the top of this post shows the catch from a plankton net caught and collected off the Plymouth coastline. Scientists there with  60 years of data on UK plankton that has been the focus of Marine scientists in Plymouth have led this major study on the collapsing health of ocean plankton pastures. They have assumed that collapse might be due to the effects of climate change on the plankton populations in UK seas.

Published as part of a wide-ranging report by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), it shows there have been extensive changes in plankton ecosystems around the British Isles over the last 60 years. The report authors are dutiful to the prevailing political correctness of associating any large negative global environment change as being part of ‘climate change.’ But is that not putting the cart before the horse.

seabirds and plankton

Seabirds are not ‘freeloaders’ on the ocean, they are a vital and active part of the ecology that work 24/7 to sustain their plankton pastures. Click to read more

The boffins state that climate variability and ocean warming are closely associated with observed negative impacts on UK plankton production, biodiversity and species distributions, which have in turn affected fisheries production and other marine life such as seabirds. This is very true if somewhat understated.

The study was written by world-leading researchers from the University of Plymouth, Marine Biological Association (MBA) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, along with colleagues at Marine Scotland Science and the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

It forms part of the MCCIP Report Card 2020, which summarizes 26 individual, peer-reviewed scientific reports to provide detailed evidence of observed and projected climate change impacts and identify emerging issues and knowledge gaps.

Among the key factors highlighted in the UK plankton report are:

There has been a shift in the distribution of many plankton and fish species around the planet. The North Sea populations of previously dominant and important zooplankton species, copepods, (the cold water species Calanus finmarchicus, a major food source for fish, shrimp and whales) have declined in biomass by 70% since the 1960s.

Smaller species of copepods with warmer-water affinities (e.g. Calanus helgolandicus) are moving northwards to replace the species, but are observed to be neither as numerically abundant and certainly represent vastly lesser biomass. While the authors of this study rightly suggest this correlates with water temperature that fits ‘climate change’ thinking, they don’t seem to be quite ready to focus on the obvious loss of surface ocean cooling power. Plankton cooling that is heavily dependent on copepods declines when delivered by smaller species that are favoured when grazing conditions and size of the phytoplankton crop is diminished due to ocean pasture collapse.

For ocean pasture ecologists like myself, it is clear that ecology recapitulates morphology. Ocean pasture ecosystems are created by the active roles of their major farmers, copepods, small farmers tend smaller phytoplankton and that makes the system most suited to the smaller species of both phyto and zoo plankton. But the overall health and abundance potential of ocean pastures in offshore systems is controlled by the availability of photosynthesis stimulating mineral micronutrients.

The decline of the European cod stocks due to overfishing may have been exacerbated by climate warming and climate-induced changes in North Atlantic and UK plankton production.

lilliputian heat pumping plankton

The largest factor in ‘global warming’ is clearly the heat pumping cooling power of plankton, esp copepods like those seen above. The diminishment of ocean pastures and their plankton cooling is something the world can immediately restore and stop climate change in its tracks. Click to read more.

Future warming is likely to alter the geographical distribution of primary and secondary open ocean (pelagic) production, affecting ecosystem services such as oxygen production and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Professor Martin Edwards, a senior scientist at the MBA and Professor of Ocean Ecology at the University of Plymouth, leader of the team states:

“There have been extensive changes in plankton ecosystems around the British Isles over the last 60 years, mainly driven by climate variability and ocean warming. For example, during the last 50 years there has been a northerly movement of some warmer water plankton by 10° latitude in the North-east Atlantic and a similar retreat of colder water plankton. Future warming is likely to alter the geographical distribution of plankton abundance and these changes may place additional stress on already depleted fish stocks, as well as having consequences for mammal and seabird populations.”

Dr. Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation at the University, lead scientist for pelagic habitats policy for the UK and North Atlantic within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, adds:

“Plankton are vital for many aspects of our lives. Their health affects that of the entire marine ecosystem, they create half of the oxygen we breathe and are crucial for the global food web. To ensure they thrive in the future, we need to understand why changes in the marine biodiversity are happening so policy makers can be prepared and manage for them. This study gives us an overview of what is happening in UK seas and is a key step in evaluating the environmental status of the pelagic habitat.”

What has become clear is that we can no longer ignore our responsibilty to be caring stewards of our ocean pastures, just as we have been caring stewards of our pastures on land for thousands of years. We must act to restore the ocean pastures before it is too late.

Here’s a trailer for a video title Atlantic Salmon – LOST AT SEA, aka starving at sea.

Read more at the film site

The plight of the Atlantic salmon as well as all of Atlantic fish is not something we can do nothing about. We can and we must restore Atlantic Salmon ocean pastures and bring back the fish. This can be accomplished in just a few years at a trivial cost.

Dr. Angus Atkinson, Senior Plankton Ecologist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, chimes in:

“This report documents the profound changes in the plankton that have occurred over the last 50 years. While we know that these are related to our warming climate, it is only by building on our UK network of time series data that we can understand the exact mechanisms behind the changes observed. With time series’ spanning multiple decades we can start to differentiate the climate signal from the natural seasonal patterns observed in the plankton. At our Western Channel Observatory’s L4 sampling station, we have generated over 30 years of weekly plankton data, which form an important contributor to this important new assessment.”

The MCCIP Report Card 2020 highlights the current and future impacts of climate change on UK seas, dependent industries and society, and features contributions from more than 150 scientists at over 50 leading research organizations across the UK.

It shows that climate impacts for UK coasts and seas are varied and far-reaching, supporting findings reported at a global level by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate report last year.

This information is crucial to not only help develop adaptation measures and management actions to support vulnerable marine life and habitats but also to help UK industries and wider society prepare for and adapt to these far-reaching marine climate impacts.