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Heat waves are expected to continue, and B.C. needs to act in order to protect its fish: prof

UBC Professor leading charge in solutions to combat extreme heat to protect fish and marine species

As extreme heat becomes a more common reality fof summer, researchers are sounding the alarm on climate change’s deadly impacts to B.C.’s marine life, adding to other major issues such as pollution and over-fishing.

At the height of the heat dome in 2021, billions of sea creatures died along B.C.’s coast, experts estimated at the time. Temperatures far surpassed 40 C and the water reached a high of 56 C.

Fish, and other marine species, aren’t capable of dealing with such high temperatures because their natural sensitivity isn’t equipped for it,”said UBC marine biology proffessor William Cheung

“Marine fish are sensitive to high changes in water temperature, which is dependant on the weather. Their bodies function well at a certain temperature but if it gets too hot or cold, then it becomes an issue. There are certain environmental factors that might help the fish such as vegetation that can shade the fish and provide cooler resting spots.”

In extreme temperatures, the marine species living in both salt and fresh bodies of water are still affected the same no matter where they reside.

Through researching Vancouver’s seafood menus from the 19th Century of all places, Cheung and fellow researchers were able to find evidence that heat trends have had ebbs and flows, leading to some marine life being more common than others.

“However, different fishes and species are made in a way that is capable of taking on more extreme temperatures,” he said. “What we found was that certain marine life such as the Humboldt squid has been used then and now since it can survive in hotter weather and lower oxygen levels.”

For Cheung, an integral solution to protect marine life is making sure population numbers stay at a steady level amid pollution and over-fishing, as well as shocking heat waves – which are likely to only become more common.

The second solution, according to Cheung, is to do better with climate actions. The intensity and frequency of extreme heat will only get worse as climate change progresses.

“Doing something for climate action will be a major help in reducing the burden on the marine life.”