University of Tasmania

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How do we overcome abrupt degradation of marine ecosystems and meet the challenge of heat waves and climate extremes?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 10:04 authored by Ainsworth, TD, Catriona HurdCatriona Hurd, Gates, RD, Philip BoydPhilip Boyd
Extreme heat wave events are now causing ecosystem degradation across marine ecosystems. The consequences of this heat‐induced damage range from the rapid loss of habitat‐forming organisms, through to a reduction in the services that ecosystems support, and ultimately to impacts on human health and society. How we tackle the sudden emergence of ecosystem‐wide degradation has not yet been addressed in the context of marine heat waves. An examination of recent marine heat waves from around Australia points to the potential important role that respite or refuge from environmental extremes can play in enabling organismal survival. However, most ecological interventions are being devised with a target of mid to late‐century implementation, at which time many of the ecosystems, that the interventions are targeted towards, will have already undergone repeated and widespread heat wave induced degradation. Here, our assessment of the merits of proposed ecological interventions, across a spectrum of approaches, to counter marine environmental extremes, reveals a lack preparedness to counter the effects of extreme conditions on marine ecosystems. The ecological influence of these extremes are projected to continue to impact marine ecosystems in the coming years, long before these interventions can be developed. Our assessment reveals that approaches which are technologically ready and likely to be socially acceptable are locally deployable only, whereas those which are scalable—for example to features as large as major reef systems—are not close to being testable, and are unlikely to obtain social licence for deployment. Knowledge of the environmental timescales for survival of extremes, via respite or refuge, inferred from field observations will help test such intervention tools. The growing frequency of extreme events such as marine heat waves increases the urgency to consider mitigation and intervention tools that support organismal and ecosystem survival in the immediate future, while global climate mitigation and/or intervention are formulated.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Global Change Biology








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Climate change adaptation measures (excl. ecosystem); Ecosystem adaptation to climate change; Effects of climate change on Australia (excl. social impacts)