Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Global warming driving Australian fish south

By Michael Byrnes for Reuters

Global warming is starting to have a significant impact on Australian marine life, driving fish and seabirds south and threatening coral reefs, Australia's premier science organization said on Wednesday.

But much more severe impacts could occur in coming decades, affecting sea life, fishing communities and tourism.

In particular, warmer oceans, changes in currents, disruption of reproductive cycles and mass migration of species would affect Australia's marine life, particularly in the southeast.

Already, nesting sea turtles, yellow-fin tuna, dugongs and stinging jellyfish are examples of marine life moving south as seas warm, said the report by the government-backed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

"It's not a disaster for the ones that can move south. It is for the ones that can't move south," lead author of the report, Dr Alistair Hobday, told Reuters.

"If you're at the tip of Tasmania, you've got nowhere else to go," he said, referring to Australia's southern island state, the last major part of Australia before the Antarctic.

Atlantic salmon, which are farmed in Tasmania, face a bleak future. Salmon farming businesses would become largely unviable as the ocean warmed the predicted one to two degrees over the next 30 years, Hobday said.

Fisheries and aquaculture are worth more than A$2.5 billion a year the report, "Impacts of Climate Change on Australian Marine Life," says. It is the first major study in the Australian region to combine the research of climate modelers, ecologists and fisheries and aquaculture scientists.

Coral in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeast may be hit by more frequent bleaching events, every two or three years compared with five or six years at present.

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