The waters are so warm off northeastern Vancouver Island, researchers say kelp is being boiled alive.
“Temperatures have been reaching 21 degrees or higher. It basically felt like bathwater,” said UVic kelp researcher and National Geographic explorer Brian Timmer.
Temperatures in the northeastern Salish Sea have been reaching 21 degrees or higher, two to three degrees higher than kelp can take.
“It kind of boils the kelp alive and it dies,” said Timmer.
Since the 1970s, rising ocean temperatures have led to entire kelp forests on the east side of Vancouver Island from Denman Island to Campbell River essentially being clear-cut.
“The blob in 2014 was kind of the final straw,” said Timmer. “There used to be kilometres-long kelp forests in that area that are now gone.”
Many scientists call kelp the “canary in a coal mine,” acting as a warning of what’s to come elsewhere in British Columbia. And it’s not just kelp that will be affected, the rising sea temperatures will cause changes in the whole ecosystem and complete changes to our coastline.
“In terms of the plants and animals, there are going to be winners and losers,” said Chris Harley, a marine biologist with UBC. “If you’re a fisherman you’re going to be catching more tuna. Oysters did really well in the recent heat dome so we’re starting to see the system shift away from mussels to oysters and we don’t know what the consequences of that will be.”
Weather patterns, seasons, or El Niño or La Niña years aside, scientists say British Columbia’s surface sea temperatures are increasing one degree a century. We now know the deep is heating up too.
“The B.C. coastal ocean will be warmer not just at the surface, but it turns out just El Niño years, it actually gets warmer on the bottom of the Strait of Georgia,” said Charles Hannah, a research scientist in physical oceanography with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
With El Niño’s only getting hotter, Hannah thinks of the heat as stored energy that’s able to provide more power to marine heatwaves.
“The warmer it gets, the more extreme events you get and that’s what I’m worried about,” said Hannah.
Hannah says the increase in extreme events is just another symptom of ecosystem change as we move into a warmer world.
“This is going to be the warmest summer of your life so far and probably the coolest of the rest of your life,” warned Hannah.