Malta’s waters experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded last August, raising alarm bells over the affects climate change is having on our shores.
The effects of rising temperatures and prolong hot spells are a major concern for Malta, which can have devastating effects on marine living communities that occupy the country’s surrounding waters.
Lovin Malta spoke with Alan Deidun, marine biologist and Malta’s ocean ambassador, to gather some insight on the long-term effects of a prolonged temperature rise.
“The marine environment is obviously not immune to the impacts of the prolonged hot spell. However, this is the first time ever that Maltese waters have reached the temperature of 30 degrees during the month of August, given that such high sea temperatures are normally encountered towards the end of summer,” said Deidun.
For Deidun, the environmental impacts are already evident with alien invasive species quickly flooding the Mediterranean sea.
“This mainly includes a facilitated influx and establishment within the Mediterranean and Maltese waters of marine alien species, given that most of these non-native species originate within tropical waters, such as the Indian and Pacific Oceans,” he explained.
These alien and non-native species have negative effects on the marine environment, with most of them being venomous or toxic.
“These new arrivals often times cause significant socio-economic and environmental impacts. Some of the species are; the highly invasive lionfish, blue swimmer crab, dusky spinefoot (the first alien fish species to actually get a Maltese name – ‘qawsalla’), the nomadic jellyfish and silver-cheeked toadfish,” said Deidun.
These new species are being documented by the Spot the Alien Fish and Spot the Alien citizen science campaigns, in order to educate on these invasive species.
With this increasing warming trend that the waters are experiencing, the Mediterranean sea is getting closer to acquiring the status of a tropical sea.
Another less obvious marine environment impact is the possibility of mass mortality across certain species.
“This would especially affect sessile species confined to the seabed, which cannot migrate to deeper waters or to waters further north, such as coral communities and sea urchins, with such mass mortality events already being witnessed in different parts of the Mediterranean during previous hot streaks,” said Deidun.
The higher sea temperatures could also favour the onset of jellyfish blooming, and reduced dissolved oxygen levels.
“Lower dissolved oxygen levels are a hazard to very active marine species, notably fish, whose reproductive cycles may also be disrupted as a result of the high water temperatures,” he said.
It goes without saying, rising sea temperatures are a pressing threat to marine living communities, and will continue to have adverse effects.
The Department of Geosciences at the University of Malta, through its Spot the Alien Fish citizen science campaigns and its deployment of an array of underwater instrumentation, are committed to constant scientific monitoring, in order to have the full picture of the real impact heat is imposing.
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