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Experts report widespread global warming impacts on world oceans

Rising global temperatures are disrupting life in the oceans from the tropics to the poles and undermining the future survival of a wide variety of species, according to a new report (1) released today by WWF, the international conservation organisation.

The species affected range from plankton, which forms the basis of marine food chains, through to polar bears, walruses, seals, sea lions, penguins, various seabird species and coral reefs. The report concludes that global warming could be the knock-out punch for many species which are already under stress from over-fishing and habitat loss. The authors warn, "the ability of our oceans to support life as it does now may be in the process of being permanently altered."

If, as scientists predict, global warming reduces the overall productivity of the oceans, this will have serious consequences for human communities. Marine life is a vital source of food and medicines, and provides livelihoods for millions of people around the globe through tourism and fishing.

Adam Markham, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign said, "These findings should set alarm bells ringing in every capital around the world. The global warming threat moves a step closer to home every day that solutions are postponed. The marine food web could unravel disastrously unless western industrialised countries turn down the heat by cutting their domestic emissions of carbon dioxide."

Worst impacted are species at higher latitudes where the warming is most extreme. Some populations of north Pacific salmon species have crashed over the last two years as ocean temperatures in the region soared to 5-6 degree Celsius higher than normal in 1997 and remained 2 degree C warmer than normal through 1998. Salmon are crucial sources of food and income in Alaska and British Columbia. The acceleration in warming that scientists predict could drive Pacific salmon species out of the north Pacific and up into the Bering Sea.

Food shortages linked to warming oceans have also led to hundreds of thousands of seabird deaths among species including sooty shearwaters, Cassin's auklets and common murres.

The WWF report - the first compilation of its kind - has been written by experts from the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI), in Seattle, in the United States. WWF and MCBI were prompted to launch their investigation after a scientific workshop they held in February reported a number of alarming developments while showing that little attention has been directed to exploring the overall impact of global warming on the seas.

WWF is releasing its investigation to coincide with World Oceans Day, and as government negotiators from over 150 countries continue a second week of climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. WWF is deeply dismayed at the lack of leadership being shown by western industrialised countries in cutting carbon pollution released by burning coal, oil and gas for energy. Talks in Bonn focus on the details of operating rules for paring only 5 per cent off industrialised countries' emissions starting from 2008.

Notes to editors:
(1) "Turning up the Heat: How Global Warming Threatens Life in the Sea", written by Amy Mathews-Amos and Ewann A. Berntson, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Seattle, USA, for WWF.

The report is available here.