Biden's Ocean Challenge: They're Warming And Fish Are Moving Climate change is hitting the oceans hard, both warming and acidifying the water. Ocean scientists are hoping the Biden Administration dives in quickly to address it.
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One Of Biden's Biggest Climate Change Challenges? The Oceans

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One Of Biden's Biggest Climate Change Challenges? The Oceans

One Of Biden's Biggest Climate Change Challenges? The Oceans

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden's environmental policies include a pledge to conserve U.S. land and U.S. waters. The goal is to protect 30% of the land and 30% of the water, which is a lot. Climate change will complicate that goal because warming temperatures are changing what is happening just offshore and altering what needs to be preserved. NPR's Lauren Sommer reports.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: A few years ago, marine biologist Kyle Van Houten saw a video online of a small, great white shark. It was young, only about five feet long, and it was swimming right off a pier in California's Monterey Bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh.

KYLE VAN HOUTEN: It was almost hard to believe. Our initial reaction was that can't be true. We know they're in Southern California and Mexico, not in Monterey.

SOMMER: Young white sharks normally hang out hundreds of miles south in the warm waters of Southern California. Van Houten and his colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have tracked them there. But starting in 2014, they began showing up in Monterey because the water is warmer.

VAN HOUTEN: There was this event, this marine heat wave in the North Pacific, which we called the blob, and that was some of the warmest water we've ever had in recorded history off of the west coast of the U.S.

SOMMER: The shark's habitat had moved, and Van Houten says that's beginning to happen all over.

VAN HOUTEN: Think what this tells us is this is not a story about sharks. This is a story about climate. The sharks are following their temperatures and their habitat. They're following their home as it moves.

MIRIAM GOLDSTEIN: The oceans are literally taking the heat from climate change.

SOMMER: Miriam Goldstein is director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress. She says the oceans have been doing us a big favor. They've absorbed more than 90% of the heat in the atmosphere from human-caused warming in the last 50 years. So she says Biden's plan to cut emissions is also key for the oceans. But beyond that, the administration hasn't laid out its priorities yet. Biden has yet to nominate a key ocean role, the head of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And Goldstein says there are urgent challenges for the agency.

GOLDSTEIN: The fish that used to be in the Carolinas are in New Jersey. The fish that used to be in New Jersey are in New England. And our management system has not caught up. So we need to look at what it will take to help these fishing communities, fishermen, processors, adapt to what is unfortunately the new reality.

SOMMER: Those can be tough conversations to have because for some fishermen, there's potentially a lot to lose. But some are ready to talk.

ERIC BRAZER: Fishermen are the - you know, think about it like the canary in the coal mine, right? They are the ones who often see and experience these changes before anybody else does.

SOMMER: Eric Brazer is deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance. He says a key issue will be the Biden administration's 30 by 30 goal to conserve 30% of the land and ocean by 2030. Historically, that's been contentious because protecting waters sometimes means putting them off limits to fishing.

BRAZER: Fishermen's businesses are going to be impacted by this, and that's why it's especially critical for us to be at the table, be at the podium, have access to the managers and start to answer these questions that are unanswered at this point.

SOMMER: Brazer says that's how the Biden administration can get buy-in. Everyone is looking for solutions, he says, because the oceans are changing in ways that no one can ignore. Lauren Sommer, NPR News.

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