Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spain's Beaches and Flora Feel the Heat ; Two Studies Say Global Warming Is Responsible for a Shifting Coastline and Visits from Arctic Seals

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spain's Beaches and Flora Feel the Heat ; Two Studies Say Global Warming Is Responsible for a Shifting Coastline and Visits from Arctic Seals

Article excerpt

The jellyfish arrived first, swarming Spain's Mediterranean beaches and stinging tens of thousands of sun-loving vacationers. Confused Arctic seals came next, washing up on Spanish coasts thousands of miles from home.

If any Spaniards still wondered whether they were seeing evidence of climate change, two recent scientific studies confirmed it: Not only has global warming already significantly altered Spain's natural environment, it is likely to continue to do so.

Years of drought here have suggested that something isn't quite right with Iberia's ecology. But this summer's changes have been more dramatic. "We're seeing evidence everywhere on the planet that climate change is a reality," says Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, the Environment Ministry's Secretary General for Climate Change, "but in Spain, it is manifesting itself with greater intensity."

During June and July, white flags with menacing blue blobs flew over many Spanish beaches to warn visitors of the fleets of jellyfish. The jellyfish, most Pelagia noctiluca, stung tens of thousands of bathers nonetheless, according to the Spanish Red Cross, forcing a temporary closure of some beaches.

The phenomenon, says Josep-Maria Gili, a professor at the Institute of Ocean Science at Spain's Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, had two causes. "The first is overfishing - with fewer sea turtles, tuna, and swordfish, the jellyfish has very few predators."

This allowed the jellyfish population to grow rapidly. The second cause, says Professor Gili, is climate change that has warmed the waters.

Warmer waters may also help explain why the Arctic seals made their way to Spanish coasts. While these seals normally reside in the waters between Canada and Greenland, at least 12 have been spotted this summer in Spain, including four in the northwestern region of Galicia.

The seals' arrival is not unprecedented; in 2001, six reached Spain. But their dispersion so far south is highly unusual, says Alfredo Lopez, president of La Coruna's Center for the Study of Marine Mammals. Mr. Lopez suggests that rising temperatures up north may have played a large role. …

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