Climate change and the ocean
Spindrift for Schools

By Dona Bertarelli

I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.

I would have loved, a few weeks ago, to be able to participate in the COP21 conference in Paris. To listen to the different debates, discussions and announcements on climate change and the essential role the ocean plays as regulator of the climate. It is the first time that the ocean has been invited to the negotiating table. The first time as well that our leaders and politicians recognized the central role the ocean plays in climate change. Our oceans cover 72 per cent of our planet and are key to our future climate.
This conference will remain an historic milestone, so I thought it essential to talk about it. I have asked an expert, Lisa Speer, Director of the International Ocean Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to share with us her insights into the relationship between climate and the ocean.

"Climate change and the ocean" by Lisa Speer

Historians will very likely look back at December 2015, when leaders from 196 countries hammered out a new international climate agreement, as a turning point in history.  The new agreement won’t “solve” climate change, but it starts us down a safer, more climate-resilient path. That represents a huge step forward.

The Paris conference also marked a big change for the ocean.  In contrast to previous climate negotiations, dozens of events and high level forums focused on the critical relationship between ocean and climate.  Prince Albert II of Monaco, Sir Richard Branson, Dr. Sylvia Earle and many others spoke compellingly of the need to address the profound consequences to ocean life of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.  These changes include sea level rise, the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice, and changes in water temperature, circulation patterns and nutrient availability.

©Yann Riou | Spindrift racing

In addition, the ocean has absorbed approximately one quarter of the excess carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater it forms carbonic acid, and lowers the pH of seawater and the availability of carbonate, an important component of shells and coral.  This poses a threat to many organisms with a shell, from the tiniest shelled plankton at the bottom of the food chain up to clams, oysters and corals.  Laboratory experiments exposing marine life to acidified water have yielded alarming results -- squid become lethargic, kril embryos fail to hatch, and reef fish are no longer able to detect predators.

The changes resulting from ocean warming and acidification are affecting the survivorship, geographic distribution, abundance, and migration patterns of marine wildlife, which in turn places fisheries, aquaculture, coastal tourism and overall ocean health at risk. We are only beginning to grasp the full range of impacts resulting from an acidified ocean.

As a result of the heightened attention to the ocean leading up to and during the Paris meeting, negotiators included reference to the ocean – absent from previous drafts of the agreement that had been circulating this fall – during the final round of negotiations.  That lays the groundwork for much greater focus on addressing the impact of CO2 emissions on the ocean.  And that is a big reason for hope during this holiday season.​

Lisa Speer, Director of the International Ocean Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council