Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

A while ago, we had an episode about how climate change affects the crops we use for food.. And that got us wondering – how do rising temperatures affect other things we eat, like seafood? And what does that mean for us in Rhode Island?

We had Isha Chawla and Fatima Husain from our Possibly Team look into this. Welcome, Isha and Fatima! 

Isha Chawla: Hi, Megan! 

Fatima Husain: Hello! 

Megan Hall: So Isha, how does climate change affect seafood?

Isha Chawla: To figure out the details, we spoke with Joanna Bernhardt, an ecologist and researcher at Yale University.

Joanna Bernhardt: I study how aquatic ecosystems change as the environment changes, and what those changes mean for human wellbeing.

Fatima Husain: Joanna says that rising temperatures have a big impact on marine life. You know how greenhouse gases trap heat and warm our planet? A lot of that heat is absorbed by the oceans.

Isha Chawla: According to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information, the ocean has absorbed about 90% of the excess heat trapped in our atmosphere so far!

Fatima Husain: And coastal waters in New England are ​​warming faster than almost anywhere else in the world because of how climate change affects the ocean currents nearby. 

Megan Hall: How does that affect marine life?

Isha Chawla: Most fish and crustaceans are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperatures correspond to the temperatures of their environment. So, as waters warm…

Joanna Bernhardt: species are shifting their ranges, often moving towards the poles or deeper in the ocean and lakes.

Fatima Husain: …in search of cooler waters that match their ideal temperatures. 

Isha Chawla: This means that communities that once relied on a particular type of fish may not be able to find it anymore. This affects anyone who catches fish for a living, as well as anyone who eats local seafood. 

Fatima Husain: Which can have a big impact on their diet. Seafood is an important source of protein and nutrients for over 3 billion people. 

Isha Chawla: And it’s not just a slow warming over time – oceans experience temperature spikes too. The heatwaves that swept across the Pacific Northwest and Canada in 2021 killed over a billion marine animals. 

Megan Hall: That’s a lot of fish! 

Isha Chawla: But that’s not all, Megan. The ocean doesn’t just absorb heat — it also absorbs a lot of the carbon dioxide that humans have added to the atmosphere. And more CO2 in the water forms carbonic acid, which eventually makes the ocean more acidic. 

Megan Hall: But the ocean is massive — can a little bit more acid really make a big difference? 

Isha Chawla: Yes! We’ve actually seen a 30% increase in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution.

Fatima Husain: And that acidity is rough on marine life. Especially on animals like lobsters and crabs, because their shells slowly dissolve in acidic water.

Isha Chawla: Which is bad news for us here in Rhode Island. ​​Shellfish make up almost half of the state’s fishing industry! Joanna says we’ll start to notice this change as…

Joanna Bernhardt: the species that are really culturally important, like clams or oysters, become less abundant or more expensive.

Isha Chawla: I mean, can you imagine a Rhode Island without shellfish?

Megan Hall: No way! Does Joanna have any tips on what we can do about this?

Isha Chawla: Well, this problem will only get better if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. So, doing things like driving an electric car, eating less red meat, and heating your home with renewable energy are a few things you can do.

Megan Hall: Got it. Thanks, Isha and Fatima! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.

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