Marine Species on the Move
Nick Bradford

Did You Know?

  • More than 80% of earth's marine life is migrating to different places and changing their breeding and feeding patterns due to warming waters.
  • Ocean species are migrating in response to a changing climate 10 times faster than land species.
  • Some marine species have migrated as much as 600 miles from where they were abundant just a few decades ago.
  • 80% of ocean pollution comes from the land. 

For humans, life on land is closely linked to and dependent upon the health of the oceans. The oceans provide an abundance of resources for humans including oxygen, food, energy, and recreation.

As ocean water temperatures warm, the distribution of many marine species—including those we rely on for food—will shift due to their dependence on specific water temperatures and nutrient availability. There are cold-loving species near the poles and warm-loving species near the equator. As warmer water temperatures shift, so do warm and cold-loving marine species. Warmer water temperatures also deplete vital nutrients, which can cause species to migrate elsewhere to feed. Once those species shift, so must the predators that rely on them for food.

Not all marine species are responding to changing temperatures and nutrient availability at the same time, which can disrupt the food web. Many marine creatures time their reproductive and migratory cycles around prey, such as whales migrating to the Arctic to feed on krill in the summer and salmon migrating to the oceans for seasonal nutrients. When these patterns are disrupted due to a changing climate, they can also change predator-prey relationships and increase mass strandings, starvation and poor reproductive success. For example, Atlantic Cod prey on a specific zooplankton species in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Higher sea surface temperatures along the US Northeast continental shelf are causing the zooplankton to shift to cooler waters. Scientists have found that populations of Atlantic Cod in areas where zooplankton have shifted seem to have lower reproductive success—this may make it harder for these fisheries to recover.

Due to other human stressors on marine life such as water pollution, overfishing and the destruction of coastal habitats, it is important to understand how the ecosystem as a whole reacts to changing water temperatures and nutrient availability, in order to sustain fisheries and populations of marine species.

Learn More

Check out this video from the Census of Marine Life to explore the science behind tracking and understanding species migrations.


Check out this video from NOAA Fisheries to learn more about how changing ocean temperatures are impacting the Atlantic Cod.


What You Can Do:


  • NOAA. 2013. “Two Takes on Climate Change in the Ocean.” Accessed September 25, 2018.….
  • Poloczanska, Elivra, S., Christopher J. Brown, William J. Sydeman, Wolfgang Kiessling, David S. Schoeman, Pippa J. Moore, Keith Brander, John F. Bruno, Lauren B. Buckley, Michael T. Burrows, Carlos M. Duarte, Benjamin S. Halpern, Johnna Holding, Carrie V. Kappel, Mary I. O'Connor, John M. Pandolfi, Camille Parmesan, Franklin Schwing, Sarah Ann Thompson, and Anthony J. Richardson. 2013. "Global imprint of climate change on marine life." Nature Climate Change 3: 919-925.