Climate change is degrading marine habitats and threatening fish supplies worldwide

Jun 19, 2012

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a new publication today on the risks from climate change on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). The volume entitled, “Frontline Observations on Climate Change and the Sustainability of Large Marine Ecosystems” finds that climate change is threatening the livelihoods of billions of people, who are dependent on the $12 trillion generated annually from the LMEs.
“The growing risks and impacts of climate change on oceans require the world to urgently invest in a green economy whereby countries achieve development targets in an environmentally sustainable way  while at the same time meeting the needs of their citizens,” said Yannick Glemarec, Executive Coordinator of UNDP-Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The report finds that warming ocean waters are causing major shifts in fish distribution and severe degradation of coastal habitats.

  • In West Africa, large populations of sardines are moving away from traditional fishing grounds. This represents a major loss in protein supplies for the region.
  • In northwest Africa, stocks of sardines and mackerel in the Canary Current LME are moving from traditional fishing areas in Senegal northward towards cooler waters off the coast of Mauritania.
  • In southwest Africa, sardines and mackerel populations are moving southward from Namibia, towards the cooler waters of the Benguela Current LME and onto the Agulhas banks area of South Africa.
  • In Asia, the increased intensity of monsoon rains in the Bay of Bengal LME is lowering the salinity of surface waters. Lower salinity is inhibiting nutrient replenishment of surface waters, thereby lowering natural productivity, and fish populations. As a result, food security for millions of people in coastal communities is at risk.

Other risks from climate change, outlined in the volume, include effects of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and the negative effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the acidification of LME waters around the world.

To combat the deleterious effects of climate change, the GEF, its agencies and the World Bank have mobilized over US$4 billion to recover and sustain the goods and services of LMEs in over 100 countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

  • In the Yellow Sea LME, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea have committed to reduce fishing effort by 33 percent, buy back retired vessels, retrain fisherman for alternative livelihoods, and reduce nutrient discharges to the Yellow Sea by 10 percent every five years.
  • In the Humboldt Current LME, Chile and Peru are protecting 18-20 percent of the world's annual marine fish catch through ecosystem based management and specific catch levels for fish species such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel.

The publication was released as input to Oceans Day, June 16, and the Oceans Development Dialogue, June 19, at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The report can be downloaded at .  Other contributors to the report include the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Contact information

UNDP Around the world