Britain’s underwater kelp forests, which provide a crucial habitat for thousands of Britain’s sea inhabitants, are being wiped out by human activities, marine biologists claim.
According to a study looking into the state of Britain’s kelp and seaweed species, it is predicted that the majority of Britain’s 26,000 square miles of kelp forests are likely to disappear by 2100, due to climate change and rising levels of acid in British waters.
The rising temperatures and increase acidity are both caused by more CO2 in the atmosphere - a by-product of burning of fossil fuels.
Kelp forests are made up of densely packed seaweeds and floating leaves, providing a habitat for thousands of species and is crucial in ensuring the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in our atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the rise in temperatures and increase in storms caused by climate change would damage Britain’s underwater forests and could lead to a situation where kelp forests are totally destroyed within a century.
Currently, Britain’s underwater kelp forests cover nearly 26,000 square miles of ocean floor; more than double the number of miles covered by woodland found ashore.
It is believed that the decline of Britain’s kelp forests will have a major impact on the survival of many of Britain’s sea creatures including a number of fishes that are fished commercially.
Juliet Brodie, the professor of botany at the Natural History Museum and the person that led the study told The Sunday Times: “The combined effect of rising temperatures and acidity will completely alter marine and plant communities,” adding “We predict that by 2100 warming will kill off the kelp forest in the south and ocean acidification will remove maerl beds in the north.”
Maerl, the hard red algae that covers much of the ocean’s floor, is crucial to the survival of many smaller fish species and crustaceans.
Rising levels of acidity in British seas will break down the calcium compounds on which algae relies on to exist, meaning the level of maerl in our oceans will decrease, having a knock on effect on those species that depend on the algae to survive.
The study was carried out by comparing experimental evidence looking into how seaweeds responded to rising temperatures and changes to acidity levels and comparing them to seaweeds in UK seas that had already seen a temperature rise of 1C and had become more acidic.
According to those that carried out the study, this could be a problem not just confined to British shores. With rising temperatures across the globe the future of kelp forests and maerl beds in other parts of the Atlantic Ocean could also be under threat.
Juliet Brodie said: “Some of the most productive habitats on Earth, such as kelp forests and maerl beds, are likely to die out over wide regions of the northeastern Atlantic within a century.”
And this could have grave consequences for fishermen in these areas.
Proffesor John Hall-Spencer from Plymouth University who co-authored the study said that “the spread of corrosive waters” could “badly affect people who make a living from the seas.”