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Human beings have thrived for millennia thanks to the hospitable nature of our planet: the sky, land, and sea yield everything we need for our survival. Today, however, marine biologists are watching the far-reaching effects of a warmer world.

Temperatures are rising in our oceans, and marine life is at risk. ECS scientists are working side by side with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Office of Science and Technology to study the effects of those changes on protected species and their habitats.

One of NOAA Fisheries’ core mandates is to recover and conserve protected resources including whales, turtles, and salmon. ECS scientists are working with NOAA to carve a path for understanding and protecting these majestic creatures and setting the stage for a world with more intact ecosystems.

North Atlantic Right Whales

Stately and massive, a North Atlantic right whale can weigh up to 70 tons. For centuries, these famously docile creatures were hunted for oil and sport. North Atlantic right whales are now among the most endangered whales in the world. Despite being protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, their numbers remain small. Now, with less than 450 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet, scientists are working to understand the impact of climate change on this protected species.

Since the summer of 2017, NOAA scientists have noticed an uptick in mortality for the North Atlantic right whale and have declared an “unusual mortality event,” sounding the alarm for emergency efforts. Many right whales have been found dead and stranded, having fallen victim to accidental collisions with boats and vessels, or becoming entangled in ropes and fishing gear. As scientists study changes in the right whales’ migration patterns, they are also asking questions about changes in their habitat.

Green Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are ocean dwellers, but to lay their eggs, adult females make the journey to nesting grounds on the beach. They burrow holes, burying their eggs deep in the sand. Rising sea levels are degrading nesting grounds for green sea turtles, making it difficult for nesting female turtles to come ashore, but scientists are observing an even more troubling phenomenon. Since the temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles, warming temperatures may prove detrimental. In the past five years, some populations of green sea turtles are hatching as almost all female. The warming of the earth can change the outcomes for sea turtles, placing the species at risk.

Meaningful Feedback

As ECS scientists look for ways to improve methods of protecting endangered species, climate change has become a new element to consider in this ever-changing landscape. Sea turtles, right whales, and other marine mammals are central to research and conservation efforts at NOAA Fisheries. Their patterns and movements give us a window into understanding our environment and world.

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