Nature and Biodiversity

In pictures: the impact of the climate crisis and human activity on our oceans

If ocean warming continues at the current rate, we stand to lose sights like this.

If ocean warming continues at the current rate, we stand to lose sights like this. Image: Colby Bignell / Climate Visuals

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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Oceans are on the frontline of the climate crisis due to the central role they play in regulating the Earth’s climate by absorbing excess heat from emissions.
  • These images from the climate-photography resource Climate Visuals explore how rising temperatures are harming marine life and coastal communities that rely on the oceans.
  • Such photos serve as a reminder of the need to protect our planet’s greatest carbon sink, or risk losing the range of benefits it provides us with.

Our oceans bear the brunt of the impacts of global warming, having absorbed around 90% of the heat generated by rising emissions to date, according to the United Nations.

These changes in temperature lead to a cascade of effects, from ice melt to ocean acidification. They not only harm marine biodiversity, but affect the lives of 680 million people living in low-lying coastal areas and the 2 billion inhabitants of coastal megacities affected by flooding, cyclones and more.

A photography competition by Climate Visuals seeks to raise awareness and understanding of how the climate crisis and human activity are impacting the ocean.

These images from the Ocean Visuals collection explore how rising temperatures are harming marine life, and how coastal communities are working together to tackle the effects of global warming on the environment.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Clown fish are bred and housed in a hatchery near Jakarta, Indonesia. ocean marine biodiversity
Clown fish are bred and housed in a hatchery near Jakarta, Indonesia. Image: Giacomo d'Orlando / Climate Visuals

The climate crisis is causing fish populations to decline, meaning hatcheries like these are vital to reviving fish populations in the wild.

A group of Indian fishers hauling in their nets, West Bengal. ocean marine biodiversity
A group of Indian fishers hauling in their nets, West Bengal. Image: Shibasish Saha / Climate Visuals

With lower fish stocks, the livelihoods of fishers and their families are put under strain as incomes fall.

Rising ocean temperatures cause corals to expel the microscopic algae living within them, keeping them alive. In picture, reef surrounding Namotu Island, Fiji.
Rising ocean temperatures cause corals to expel the microscopic algae living within them, keeping them alive. In picture, reef surrounding Namotu Island, Fiji. Image: Beau Pilgrim / Climate Visuals

Rising ocean temperatures cause corals to expel the microscopic algae living within them, keeping them alive. The coral then loses its bright colour and dies, a process known as coral bleaching.

A group of divers work on restoring the coral ecosystem in Pramuka Island, Indonesia. ocean marine biodiversity
This coastal community in Pramuka Island, Indonesia is committed to coral restoration to preserve the marine ecosystem. Image: Giacomo d'Orlando / Climate Visuals

Many coral reefs are experiencing bleaching around the world, so restoration is vital to ensure the marine life that depend on these habitats are protected.

Artificial reef in Mon Choisy, Mauritius. ocean marine biodiversity
An artificial reef in Mon Choisy, Mauritius. Image: Reuben Pillay / Climate Visuals

Artificial reefs like these help to not only provide a habitat for fish, but also to reduce soil erosion by breaking the force of the waves before they reach the shores.

Body of a deer lies in the mud deep inside the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Kalir Char. ocean marine biodiversity
The body of a deer lies in a mangrove forest in Kalir Char, Bangladesh. Image: Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury / Climate Visuals

The climate crisis is increasing soil salinity in many regions of the world, destroying flora and fauna which provide food and shelter for both plants and animals.

Melting sea ice in Uummannaq, Greenland. ocean marine biodiversity climate crisis
Melting sea ice in Uummannaq, Greenland. Image: Adam Sébire / Climate Visuals

As sea ice melts, Inuits in the Arctic region struggle to carry out their daily tasks like hunting due to the lack of reliably solid sea ice.

Nia Riningsih cycles across a path that is inundated by tidal flooding due to rising sea levels. ocean marine biodiversity climate crisis
A woman cycles home from work in Demak, Central Java, Indonesia. Image: Dhana Kencana / Climate Visuals

Sea-level rise as a result of the climate crisis is creating challenging commutes like this for many coastal communities.

A damaged submerged area is seen after flash floods in Sunamganj, Bangladesh. ocean marine biodiversity climate crisis
A flash flood submerges homes in Sunamganj, Bangladesh. Image: Muhammad Amdad Hossain / Climate Visuals

Coastal villages around the world are increasingly experiencing extreme flooding, with citizens having to migrate further inland.

People use a boat to travel around their flooded village in the Kudigram district of Bangladesh.
Boats are the only viable transport option for these villagers in the Kudigram district of Bangladesh. Image: Muhammad Amdad Hossain / Climate Visuals

The climate crisis has forced coastal communities to adapt their way of life to endure through floods.

Hundreds of mangrove seedlings are growing in a small bay of an island south of Fiji's main island Viti Levu.
Hundreds of mangrove seedlings grow on an island south of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. Image: Tom Vierus / Climate Visuals

To combat flooding, Fiji's government sponsors several mangrove reforestation initiatives like this throughout the country. Mangroves increase the resilience of coastal communities by serving as a natural wave barrier.

People construct a levee with sandbags for protection against erosion. ocean marine biodiversity climate crisis
People construct a levee with sandbags on a beach in Ihuru, Maldives. Image: Alain Schroeder / Climate Visuals

As sea levels rise, shoreline erosion must be addressed with protective measures like these that control how sand moves.

A group of volunteers for Clean Ocean Sailing sort through marine waste.
A group of volunteers for Clean Ocean Sailing sort through marine waste. Image: Monika Hertlova / Climate Visuals

Every year, an estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans, according to the Ocean Conservancy. Volunteers like those pictured above offer their time to remove this waste and sort through it to recycle or repurpose different items.

A person with oil-coated hands after a spill in the Niger Delta.
A person with oil-coated hands after a spill in the Niger Delta. Image: Jerry Chidi / Climate Visuals

These photos emphasize the need to protect our oceans – the planet’s greatest carbon sink – or we risk losing the range of benefits they provide us with, from breathable air to the future of food supplies.

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