The unprecedented and deadly heatwave that is currently baking the Northwestern swath of the North American continent has taken a profound toll on marine life, so much so that one scientist warned in a report in Scientific American on Thursday that the “potential collapse of the region’s maritime ecosystem” may be right around the corner.
The record temperatures – which are a direct consequence of anthropomorphic climate change – essentially cooked billions of sea creatures to death in just the last couple of weeks. And that was after only a few days of 100-degree-plus heat. Thus, the ecological prognosis for the future is appropriately dark.
Christopher Harley, a professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, recalled to Scientific American what he witnessed along the coast.
“I was on a shore just as the tide was falling on the first of the three hot days. I was not thinking to myself, ‘All of these things will probably be dead by Monday afternoon.’ I didn’t realize that I would spend most of the next few weeks madly dashing around the province to document such unprecedented impacts,” said Harley.
The magnitude of the environmental devastation borders on the inconceivable.
On Galiano Island, for example, more than a million dead mussels turned up in a patch of the sea the size of a tennis court. In White Rock, British Columbia, 100 million barnacles littered an area of just one square kilometer.
In other areas, the scene was one of straight-up carnage.
“The Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound have thousands of kilometers of coastline. Not all sites are as bad as the two I described, but you can fit a lot of tennis courts into a thousand kilometers,” he explained
The situation is nothing short of catastrophic.
“The more shorelines I visit, the higher my estimate becomes. The system is already responding,” Harley said of the number of marine animals that have died in the abnormally warm waters.
“I also worry about the little things that most people—including biologists—don’t pay much attention to. For most of the strange and wonderful creatures that call the mussel bed home, we don’t even know enough about them to know how many were lost and if and when they will recover,” Harley said. “So far, my students and I have recorded dead animals on beaches that span hundreds of kilometers of shoreline. Eventually, parts of the British Columbia coast may become more like Hong Kong and other hot parts of the world where many of the intertidal species die off every single summer.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.