Another thing occurred during my half term Halloween holiday (see Spooky Seaside Goings On) that gave me pause for thought. We rented a cottage right by the sea to make the most of any surfing opportunities and beach time. The beach is one of the most beautiful in the UK, with pristine white sand and clear blue sea. Were it not for the temperature, you could be in the Caribbean, it really is that stunning. On our first day at the seaside we encountered something that looked like a rather fancy electric blue/purple and coral pink blown up condom, lying innocently on the beach. In fact, there were dozens scattered along the beach: Portuguese Men Of War. These strange looking jellyfish-like creatures have a very nasty sting. They have been very rare in the UK – it was the first time in 47 years of beach going that I’ve ever seen one. Warmer seas and changing weather and wind patterns have pushed ‘unprecedented’ numbers of the creatures into UK waters for the first time, closing some Cornish beaches in September. After scanning the area and pointing out what they looked like to the children, we let them get on with some serious playing. We went in for a surf. And yet, it seemed to me to be another example of how a changing climate is changing so many things about our environment. The sea will always throw up strange and fascinating creatures from time to time, and there is nothing new in this. But when you look at the the wider pattern, the warming waters around the UK are clearly changing rapidly. Bass were extremely rare in the North Sea twenty years ago, and now there are a number of East coast fisheries where they are encountered throughout the summer and autumn. This year a basking shark was spotted in the North Sea for the first time – another animal that loves the warmer waters of the west coast of the UK. Bluefin tuna are starting to figure regularly in boat catches on west of Ireland, as their migration patterns are changing as a result of rapid shifts in water temperature in a warming ocean. None of these changes compare to the heartbreaking bleaching events of recent decades which have seen huge swathes of coral reef damaged or destroyed by exceptionally warm water across parts of the tropics. Many tropical reefs are not expected to survive 1.5 degrees celsius of global warming – and we are currently heading for 4 or 5 degrees without immediate action from us all. So much of what we are told about climate change seems remote – falling ice caps, dying coral, and starving polar bears are all a long way from the UK. But the signs of rapid change are also all around us now, and we shouldn’t really ignore them any longer.
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