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Fish on the move due to ocean warming

Diver in water holding coral trout. Map with Sydney circled in corner of image.

Marine species are on the move around the Australian coastline in response to ocean warming, with recently published research finding that 197 species have shifted their range south since 20031.

NSW DPI Fisheries scientists have collaborated with Redmap Australia (www.redmap.org.au) to produce a NSW report card showing how marine species distributions are changing along the NSW coastline based on sightings made by citizen scientists (such as fishers, divers, boaters and snorkelers).

The Redmap (Range Extension Database and Mapping) citizen science program enables anyone out on the water to spot, log and map any uncommon marine species not usually seen in their local area.

DPI Research Scientist and climate change citizen science project lead, Dr Curtis Champion, says that the NSW Redmap report card will help us understand how our marine ecosystems are changing in response to climate change.

“Ocean temperatures around most parts of the Australian coast are warming at a rate over twice the global average,” Dr Champion said.

“A rise of just a degree or two can significantly impact the distribution of marine species across our NSW coastal waters. For instance, in recent years, people have spotted Common Coral Trout, usually confined to tropical waters of Queensland, off the coast of Sydney,” he said.

The NSW report card is based on 656 observations of species outside of their historical distributions along the NSW coastline spotted by 234 ‘citizen scientists’.

Dr Champion said using citizen science to develop a map of how marine species distributions are changing along the coast provides a valuable resource to scientists and educates the public as to the impacts of climate change on their lives.

“Information provided by citizen scientists is an incredibly valuable resource for understanding how marine life is responding to climate change, particularly through monitoring climate-driven changes to species distributions,” he said.

“In addition, engaging members of the public to document sightings of marine species that are unusual in their local environments opens up a conversation about the impacts of climate change on NSW marine environment. It’s about bringing the often unseen or complex impacts of climate change on the ocean directly into people’s lives,” Dr Champion said.

To check out the NSW Report Card click here.  To find out more about joining in the efforts to spot, log and map species, go to the Redmap website.

NSW DPI Fisheries and Redmap Australia (based at the University of Tasmania) completed the climate change citizen science report card with support from the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy.

1 Gervais, CR, Champion, C, Pecl, GT (2021) Species on the move around the Australian coastline: A continental-scale review of climate-driven species redistribution in marine systems. Global Change Biology 27, 3200-3217.

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