Rising sea levels are a reality. The rate of rise over the past twenty years is double what it was during the preceding eighty years. This will impact coastal cities, and small islands will be at risk of completely vanishing if the trend continues. What does this mean for animal life? The rising sea levels as well as other factors associated with the phenomena, such as increased water temperatures and ice loss, are having a negative impact on a number of species already.
Small islands will be the hardest hit by the rapidly rising sea levels. Any endemic island species will suffer major habit loss, perhaps complete loss of their habitat if islands are submerged, and subsequently many species will face extinction. Animals living on the coasts of larger islands and continents will be forced inland, which will then impact the other species already there as they begin to compete for resources. Island and coastal plant life will be effected, which will cause animals who feed on it to suffer. Some animals of high concern for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are Galapagos penguins, petrels in Bermuda, and colonies of seabirds on the Hawaiian Islands.
In addition to beaches, wetlands and estuaries will be lost. Salt marshes and similar environments are valuable and delicate ecosystems. Slight changes in salinity of the water can have devastating effects as ocean levels increase. Particularly in coastal regions without major changes in elevation. Just as with beach environments if flora is effected or smaller organisms, all species higher on the food chain will suffer consequences.
Sea turtles, an already severely endangered species, are suffering a great deal from sea level changes, as well as rising temperatures. The increased levels have caused erosion of the turtles’ nesting beaches, making their eggs more vulnerable to predators. The increased temperatures associated with the rising water levels are surpassing the upper temperature limit for their eggs as well. This either kills the embryos or creates a gender bias with not enough male turtles. The adults have been forced to adapt to changes in their food sources as well. Similarly, Mediterranean Monk Seals raise their pups on beaches that are vanishing.
One of the main factors causing a rise in sea levels is the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. This conjures up images of polar bears and other Arctic creatures being indirectly effected by rising sea levels. Polar bears are not only experiencing a reduction in their ice habitats, but also a decrease in their primary food source – seals. Seals are being forced to adapt to changing habitats and are not adapting fast enough, causing their population to suffer dramatically.