Increasing Amount Of Bacteria Found In Warming Global Ocean

A 200-page paper produced by Project CLAMER suggests that the rising temperatures of the global ocean could cause serious illnesses. With the oceans becoming increasingly warmer, a genus of bacteria called Vibrio is becoming is spreading. The Vibrio genus causes food poisoning, cholera, septicemia, and gastoenteritis.

The spread of bacteria in the ocean puts many people at risk for contamination, which will then cost a large amount of money in health costs. The paper, which is the result of more than 100 projects funded by the European Union since 1998, suggests that “millions of euros in health costs may result from human consumption of contaminated seafood, ingestion of waterborne pathogens, and, to a lesser degree, through direct occupational or recreational exposure to marine disease. Climatic conditions are playing an increasingly important role in the transmissions of these diseases.”

Carlo Heip, the director of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research, told the Associated Press that the Vibrio genus of bacteria has been observed since the 1960s, and that “when the temperature in the North Sea began to increase at the end of the 80s, the Vibrios began to increase. One of those Vibrios is the cholera species.” Heip went on to note that although the evidence is “anecdotal,” a large number of people in the Baltic region were afflicted with gastroenteritis in 2006. Even though there is no solid proof that the gastroenteritis is due to bacteria in the ocean, Heip indicates that it is a strong possibility that Vibrio is the reason. Heip also noted that “things are changing in the ocean much more rapidly than we thought was possible.” He uses an example of a changing fish population in the North Sea; larger species are moving towards the Arctic, while smaller species are taking their place in the North Sea.

Katja Philippart, a marine scientist who was involved in the study, noted that “what was striking to me was the enormous pile of evidence that things are already happening. There is so much happening already. We are just in the midst of it.” In an ironic twist, Philippart stated that effects of global warming, such as acidification, could further contribute to the phenomenon, creating something of a vicious cycle. As acidification of the ocean increases, algae loses the capacity to store carbon dioxide, which means there will be more carbon dioxide in the air- something that leads to global warming.

In addition to the research about bacteria spreading in the ocean, the paper also highlights several other concerns about global warming’s effects on the ocean. Risks include melting ice, which contributes to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. In addition, the risk of storms is increasing, both in frequency and intensity. Finally, the chemical balance of sea water is changing; acidification and deoxygenation are two chemical changes that are already occuring in the water. Global warming has long been a concern of the ocean; as glaciers continue to melt, sea levels rise, which could potentially be disastrous in years to come for coastal residents. The latest information about bacteria concerning public health draws attention to the fact that global warming is extremely harmful to not only the environment, but the people who inhabit it as well.

The paper was produced by Project CLAMER, which is a collaboration of 17 European ocean institutes. The paper was released in advance of a two-day conference in Brussels, which will further discuss the problems the ocean is facing due to the advance of global warming. The latest news of global warming’s harmful effects will continue to shed light on a problem in dire need of a solution.

Photo Credit: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/OceanCarbon/images/ocean_surface.jpg

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