10 Threatened Ocean Buffer Zone Creatures

feature_image_emperor_penguin_antarctica_ocean_buffer_zone_creatures

The oceans are undergoing the most dramatic changes, even if we do not notice it with the naked eye. 

The oceans absorb 93% of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and the oceans absorb 60% more heat than previously thought.

The oceans also function as carbon sinks, capturing about 26% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human activities. 

As this excess carbon dissolves, it changes the acid-base balance of ocean waters, making them less suitable for marine life.

The development of the extractive industry and pollution of coastal territories and seas also negatively impact ocean ecosystems. Wastewater is the primary pollutant. Eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.

Although laws protect aquatic creatures, many animals are on the verge of extinction; man is to blame for this. Here are ten ocean buffer zone creatures that are threatened by climate change.

1. Narwhal, Arctic 

Specification

Scientific NameMonodon monoceros
Common nameSea Unicorn
Threatened byClimate change
Threatened inArctic Ocean
ImpactNumber Reducing

Narwhals are animals of the cetacean order. Due to the harpoon-like tusk protruding from their heads, they look like aquatic unicorns. Moreover, like unicorns, they can only become the subject of fantasy one day.

Narwhals are found in Arctic waters and spend up to five months a year under the ice, where they hunt for fish and air; they rise to the cracks. 

The name “narwhal” in the language of local aborigines means “corpse.” They are called this way because they often float upside down at the water’s surface, as if dead. In addition, they can remain stationary in this position for several minutes.

As the melting of Arctic ice accelerates, fishing and other vessels invade their feeding grounds and capture large numbers of fish, reducing the narwhal’s food supply. 

Ships are also filling Arctic waters with unprecedented levels of noise pollution, causing severe stress to animals.

In addition, killer whales began to swim further north, closer to warm waters, and hunt narwhals more often.

According to experts, at the moment, there are about 200,000 individuals of this species of animals left in the wild.

Danish researchers have found that narwhals have low genetic diversity via sequencing the genome of a narwal, generally indicating that a species is struggling. 

They have fewer DNA variations for the action of natural selection; they would have a difficult time adapting to changes in their environment.

The study authors also caution that while most narwhal populations are doing well, their niche specialization and confinement in the Arctic, an area expected to be one of the hardest hit by climate change.

It means they are still vulnerable for decades to come. Paradoxically, they are a fundamental instrument to help NASA against climate change. 

These cetaceans that inhabit Arctic waters have a tusk that manages to protrude from the surface of the Arctic Sea and the waters of the northern Pacific Ocean.

Now, this tusk, with which they usually hunt their prey and which is exclusive to males, is used as part of a program to track the thaw level of the Arctic Sea and detect the areas of vulnerable alert.

The project is called Oceans Melting in Greenland, and many narwhals are already participating in it. 

They are fitted with a GPS that serves to measure time, depth, and distance, with which they will help to know the exact location and at what speed the ice blocks are melting.

2. Green sea turtle, Australia

Midori, a green sea turtle, in Cairns Aquarium, Australia - ocean buffer zone creatures
Close up view of a rescued green sea turtle at Cairns Aquarium | Photo by David Clode

Specification

Scientific NameChelonia mydas
Threatened byClimate Change, Rise in Temperature, Habitat Loss
Threatened inAustralia Coastal Region
ImpactFeminization and decline in the male population

Green sea turtles in the wild can live for up to 80 years, swimming peacefully from island to island and feeding on algae.

However, WWF research has shown that the rise in ocean temperatures experienced by the northern Great Barrier Reef in eastern Australia contributes to a decline in the green turtle population.

According to the research, if their egg incubation temperature rises, there will be more females, which is happening right now. 

There are about 200,000 female breeding turtles, but the males are fewer and fewer, furthermore, all because of the rise in temperature associated with climate change. 

Scientists have captured green turtles in northern Queensland, Australia, to determine their sex and nesting location and undergo genetic and endocrinological tests. 

So, they learned that 86.8% of the northernmost population of green turtles were females, while on the southern beaches, which are colder, the proportion of female turtles is between 65 and 69%.

Most worrisome is that the situation does not appear to change in the short term. According to Dr. Michael Jensen, one of the study’s authors, green turtles in the northern Great Barrier Reef have produced more females than males for over two decades. 

The Portuguese Center for Environmental and Marine Sciences and British University of Exeter study indicate that with the scenario of warmer temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), between 76 and 93% of the hatchlings of turtles would be female.

In addition, on the beaches where the researchers carried out their study, experts predict that the rise in the ocean level will submerge 33 to 43% of the areas where the green turtle nests.

One of the study’s authors, Rita Patricio, from the University of Exeter, warned that the green turtle “will have to face problems in the future due to the loss of its habitat and the increase in temperatures.”

3. Krill, Antarctica

Specification

Scientific NameEuphausiacea
Threatened byClimate Change, Warming Water, Loss of habitat
Threatened inAntarctica
ImpactPopulation decline, habitat change, marine ecosystem imbalance

Krill are tiny shrimp-like creatures abundant in great numbers and make up most of the diets of whales, penguins, seabirds, seals, and fish. 

Krill live in the Antarctic ocean buffer zone, wherein in the colder months, they use the ice sheet to collect food and grow in a safe environment. 

As the ice melts in the region, krill habitat shrinks, and some populations are declining by as much as 80%.

Scientists say that global warming conditions have led krill to contract poleward in recent decades. If the change continues, it will negatively influence ecosystems, they warn. 

‘Our results suggest that the Krill amount has decreased over the past 40 years. The krill location has also moved to smaller habitats. That indicates that all of these other krill-eating animals will face much more intense competition with each other for this vital food resource.’ said Simeon Hill of the British Antarctic Survey. 

Scientists have collected data in Scotland and the Antarctic Peninsula since the 1920s. 

Initially, scientists recorded krill catches to understand the environmental consequences of commercial whaling, but the information has continued to be collected to the present. 

Dr. Hill and his colleagues say that the change in the distribution and density of crustaceans is a clear sign emerging in the data from the late 1980s onwards. 

Krill are also endangered by fishing vessels that fish in large quantities as animal feed. 

Greenpeace and other environmental organizations are currently working towards a global moratorium on fishing for krill in newly discovered waters.

If krill go extinct, it will cause devastating chain reactions in all marine ecosystems.

4. Corals

Brown brain coral at brazil - ocean buffer zone creatures
Brown brain coral at Curitiba, Brazil | Photo by Diogo Hungria

Specification

Scientific NameAnthozoa
Threatened byWarm Ocean Water
Threatened inAll over the World
ImpactMarine creature food system depleting, increase in Gorgonians number

Coral reefs are magnificent structures that develop some of the most active oceanic ecosystems. From fish and turtles to algae, thousands of species depend on coral reefs for support and protection.

The problem is that they are especially susceptible to climate change, significantly rising ocean temperature. 

With the increase in ocean temperature in recent decades, reefs have been affected by high coral mortality rates, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which lost 30% of its population in 2016

With heating, corals go through the bleaching process, which is the loss of color due to the leakage of their primary source of food, the algae, without which they end up dying.

Bleaching occurs when heat shocks a coral and causes it to expel symbiotic organisms that give it color and nutrients. 

Coral reefs usually recover from bleaching, but it becomes fatal to them in the end when this happens repeatedly. Moreover, if no action is taken, bleaching could destroy all of the world’s corals.

Corals are replaced by other species, such as gorgonians, less efficient in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. 

This information is revealed by research carried out with the Institute of Marine Science (LABOMAR), the Federal University of Ceara, and the University of Salento (Italy), which for the first time analyzed the resistance of these beings to climate change.

The research analyzed gorgonians from the Caribbean region. It revealed that many of these species depend less on algae for their nutrition, having greater flexibility in obtaining food, which explains their more excellent resistance to climate change.

Gorgonians are more resistant to bleaching and can feed on small animals in the water. It generates a movement to replace one species with another, harming the environment and society.

As they are soft organisms, gorgonians do not form reefs, which is harmful to species dependent on these systems and should even affect fishing activity.

Another consequence is the imbalance in sea level at the coasts, as reefs absorb wave energy during sea surf and hurricanes. 

Without hard corals to guarantee the formation of reefs, this role is also impaired, causing damage even beyond the environmental sphere.

5. Steller Sea Lion, Antarctica

Specification

Scientific NameEumetopias jubatus
Threatened byClimate Change, lack of food, genetic modification
Threatened inAntarctica
ImpactOn the edge of extinction

The sea lion of Stelle was named after the German scientist George Wilhelm Steller who described it for the first time in 1741. 

Imposing its weight and size (one ton and more than three meters long for the male), place it in the third position of the largest pinnipeds, behind the walrus and the elephant seal. 

This species lives in the North Pacific and is found from southern California to Japan via Alaska and the Russian coasts. 

Scientists have sounded the alarm bell in a report named Groundfish Biological Opinion. In recent decades, populations of Steller’s sea lions have declined dramatically. 

This decrease affects all the eastern regions of its habitat, without the populations in the west being affected.

Nature magazine also published research in 2014 pointing out that climate changes are altering the genetic profile of these mammals.

According to scientists, data for the past 30 years show that puppies have had lower average weight while fewer adults reproduce. 

It is because these animals wait until later to have their offspring. Only most giants survive and reproduce. The researchers classified these symptoms as classic consequences of lack of food. 

The finding is even reinforced by the decreases recorded in the availability of Antarctic krill. They are fundamental crustaceans in the food chain of this habitat.

After being extinct in the 19th century due to large-scale hunting, the southern sea lions recovered in the last century. 

However, in commentary on the study, Oxford University zoologists Tim Coulson and Sonya Clegg warned that, given the depth of current changes, “it may become more difficult to combat the decline of sea lions in the 21st century of the year than in the 20th century.”

6. Sawfish, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific Ocean

freshwater sawfish in Cairns City - ocean buffer zone creatures
Giant preserved Freshwater sawfish on cairns aquarium | Photo by David Clode

Specification

Scientific NamePristidae
Common nameCarpenter Shark
Threatened byLoss of habitat
Threatened inAtlantic, Indian, and the Pacific Ocean
ImpactPopulation Decline

The primary habitat of sawfish is the warm temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific oceans. Sawfish can be found in the coastal waters of Australia and America. 

According to scientists, the sawfish habitat in the world’s oceans has decreased by 80%. The population size of each species has reduced from 10 to 90%.

Marine biologists have warned that the sawfish could soon disappear from the oceans due to overfishing and loss of habitat. 

According to The Independent, there are 18 countries where at least one species of sawfish is missing and 28 more countries where two species have disappeared.

A new study by scientists from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, has shown that these shark-like rays have disappeared from half of the world’s coastal waters and will soon be exterminated. 

Previously, fish lived along the coasts of 90 countries; now, they are no longer found in 46 countries.

The Planet is home to 5 species of sawfish, three are endangered, and two others are included in the inventory of vulnerable species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

These fish are among the largest in the ocean, with some individuals reaching a length of 7.6 m. They use their “saw” to find and control the movements of small prey by measuring the electric fields that other creatures emit. 

Sawfish parts are some of the most valuable in the fin trade and are also used to make medicines.

Restraining the catch and protecting habitats will help restore the population. The mangroves on the coasts are places where these fish species thrive. 

International conservation measures are recommended in 8 countries: Cuba, Madagascar, Tanzania, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, and Sri Lanka, aiming to recover more than 70% of the historical range of sawfish.

7. Mediterranean Monk Seal, Mediterranean, Africa

Specification

Scientific NameMonachus Monachus
Common nameWhite Bellied Monk seal
Threatened byBeaches Degradation, Rise in water temperature
Threatened inThe Mediterranean Sea and West Coast of Africa
ImpactOn the Verge of Extinction

The monk seal is a robust animal that can reach 400 kilos and 4 meters in height, in the case of males. Females are always smaller, reaching up to 2.30 meters in size.

When it submerges, its parallel nostrils close, thus preventing water from entering the respiratory channels. 

Underwater, they use their eyes to guide them and their long whiskers, organs of touch that are extremely sensitive to changes in pressure.  

They can sleep on the sea surface for a period of up to 12 minutes, after which they have to move to breathe. 

Although it carries out most of its activity at sea, the seal depends on the land to rest, essentially on beaches hidden inside caves.

It is currently the most threatened marine mammal in Europe. Once easily seen in all Mediterranean countries and along the African coast and Macaronesia, it has almost completely disappeared.

Accidental hunting through fishing nets and the degradation of beaches where mothers have their young are the worst threats.

This species has almost completely disappeared from its original range. 

Its population has been fragmented into four subpopulations and reduced to less than 700 individuals, making it one of the most endangered seals on the Planet. 

8. Napoleon Fish, Indo-Pacific Region

Napoleon fish facts | Copyright: Deep Marine Scenes

Specification

Scientific NameCheilinus Undulatus
NicknameMaori wrasse/Humphead wrasse
Threatened byHarpoon Fishing, Loss of Habitat
Threatened inIndian Pacific ocean
ImpactPopulation Decline

The unique Maori wrasse fish is typical of coral reefs and coastal habitats in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. It is critical to coral reefs’ health (and defense), as their diet includes species that prey on corals. 

This giant fish – up to 2 m long and up to 200 kg in weight – has a great, funny appearance. The triangular outgrowth on his head resembles a cocked hat, also known as the Napoleon fish, and the thick “glamorous” lips seem to be constantly smiling.

One of the extraordinary features of this fish is hermaphroditism. Up to a certain age, the Maori wrasse is a girl, and at about the age of 9, it changes color and behavior for some unknown reason and becomes a real male.

However, the fantastic creature is listed as the most endangered species due to harpoon fishing. 

Divers usually go down to the depths of the sea at night, when the fish is hibernating, and paralyze them by spraying cyanide around the reefs. 

In this way, the napoleon fish loses the ability to swim at that time, being fatally wounded by the harpoon. In addition, dynamite fishing is still used in some parts of the world to catch these fish.

Dynamite often destroys reefs, exposing endangered wrasse fish. This technique kills the marine habitat of the wrasse and many other species that inhabit corals.

The indiscriminate fishing of the endangered wrasse is mainly due to its meat value, especially that of its lips. It is considered an exquisite delicacy.

Its meat is sold in some restaurants, costing very high amounts of money; In 1999, the demand for Humphead wrasse meat caused it to be sold for $ 200 per kilo.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has classified the wrasse within the category of red alert or maximum of the species included in serious risks or threats.

9. Emperor penguin, Antarctica

Specification

Scientific NameAptenodytes forsteri
Threatened byGreen House Gas Emission, Melting of Antarctica Ice
Threatened inAntarctica
ImpactDestruction of Penguin Colonies, Lack of Reproduction

For emperor penguins, a thick layer of ice is essential for life. They breed their offspring, rest, and hide from predators. Therefore, climate change and melting glaciers threaten the survival of the entire species.

A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute of America study indicated that melting ice by 2100 could cause 98% of emperor penguin colonies to become extinct. There is a familiar balance of sea ice on the coast of Antarctica, where they inhabit. 

If there is too much of it, the parents’ penguins leave hungry chicks for a long duration to get them food. Moreover, the offspring can drown due to rising sea levels.

Scientists note that if the rate of global warming continues, the ice will melt too quickly, which will lead to the disappearance of almost the entire population of emperor penguins since they will not have time to evolve to adapt to new conditions.

In 2016, Halley Bay, home to the second-largest colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica, collapsed. 

The cause of this collapse was the premature melting of sea ice. Then more than 10 thousand chicks died; since then, the colony has not yet recovered.

10. Pink Dolphin, Amazon

Pink Dolphin disappearing from HongKong | Copyright: National Geographic

Specification

Scientific NameInia geoffrensis
Common nameRiver Dolphin/ Gray Dolphin
Threatened byDeforestation, Hunting, Dam Construction, Mining
Threatened inAmazon
ImpactIt can be extinct by 2200

Of all the species of river dolphins, the pink Amazon dolphin is the largest: males can measure up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length and weigh up to 200 kilos. The females, a little smaller, can measure 2.2 meters and weigh 150 kilos. 

The body is flexible, as they need to be agile to dodge obstacles, such as fallen logs in the water, and to capture their prey. In addition to fish, they can also eat shellfish.

What distinguishes these dolphins from others is their slow transformation from gray to pink as they age. Its behavior and exposure to sunlight also influence the change in tone of the pink dolphin.

Several threats put the pink dolphin in danger of extinction, but among the most overwhelming is illegal and indiscriminate hunting, since, for years, its meat was used as bait to fish some species of fish. 

Specifically, the hunters use its meat to catch speck fish. These scavenger species feed on the remains of dead animals, including illegally hunted pink dolphins, a practice that persists in some regions where it is distributed.

The destruction of its habitat has led the pink dolphin to be in danger of extinction since deforestation, especially in the Brazilian Amazon, reduces its extension every year. 

It has led to sectors of the river where they are located being destroyed. In addition, noise pollution by the boats has also caused the extinction of these amazing creatures. 

On the other hand, as with other species of dolphins, mercury contamination due to gold mining has led to levels of this material flooding the waters of the rivers where the pink dolphin lives, which has caused many specimen deaths.

Another major threat facing the dolphin is the numerous constructions of hydroelectric plants on the rivers in the region. 

The damming of rivers fragments the populations of porpoises that end up isolated in hydroelectric lakes, impeding gene flow.

Conclusion

Climate change due to human activities has threatened the existence of numerous marine and freshwater creatures. 

The problem has decreased their number and increased the number of other poisonous ocean buffer zone creatures like jellyfish, lionfish, starfish. 

Researchers urge global leaders to take appropriate actions, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and introduce strict legal prohibitions. 

Timely action is required to preserve these beautiful and ecologically important creatures.