New England coast heating up faster than other bodies of water, creating challenges for marine life

The ocean around Cape Cod, Boston Harbor, and all the way north up to Maine is warming faster than just about any body of water in the world.

This area is known as the Gulf of Maine.

The spike in temperature is already challenging marine life along our coastline.

“It’s very worrisome,” said Glen Gawarkawicz, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

“The temperatures in the Gulf of Maine and south of New England had been increasing really since the early 2000s but they’ve really turned up since about 2010.”

The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than about 95% of the world’s oceans. Last year the surface temperature was about 4 degrees above the long-term average.

Aubrey Church, policy manager at the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said: “Temperature is one of the most prominent environmental forces for marine species, so it really impacts their reproduction, their growth, or seasonal migrations.”

Warmer waters around New England could be a reason why more sharks are seen in the area.

Nick Whitney, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, said “I think in the past couple of decades we’ve seen what appears to be a rebound of the shark population in the region.”

Another factor why more sharks are here is the large number of seals that sharks feed upon.

Whitney says the warmer water is changing the dynamic for many species. “For species that can’t migrate and move with the temperatures, they can easily go extinct in areas where it’s gotten too warm, and for species that can move, you end to find these really strange changes in their species distribution.”

Marine species finding new habitats are changing the New England fishing industry.

Ken Baughman, a commercial rod and reel who operates out of Woods Hole, says the waters off Massachusetts have a rich history.

“300 years of the best fishing in the world. Guys used to get on white boats from Portugal and sail all the way of here to catch our cod fish.”

Today many local fishermen are forced to go further out and for longer periods to try and catch enough fish.

“The less fish you catch, the less money you make,” added Baughman.

Church added that many species are extremely sensitive to temperature. “They can either shift northward into deeper cooler water. They can expand their range, because they might not be thermal tolerant, or they might not be able to sustain their population like Atlantic cod.”

Lobsters are also migrating in search of cooler water.

Gawarkawicz said these changes are challenging a way of life that’s been a staple of the region for hundreds of years.

“I will say that the fishing community is incredibly resourceful. They’ve gone thru many hard times over the literally centuries in New England, but it is certainly at risk for the future.”

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