How Are Rising Ocean Temperatures Affecting Tourism?

How Are Rising Ocean Temperatures Affecting Tourism?

by Jack Shaw
How Are Rising Ocean Temperatures Affecting Tourism 9

Climate change’s effects are becoming more apparent by the day as the weather becomes more volatile and coastlines erode. While these consequences affect everyone, the tourism industry sees severe ramifications. Rising ocean temperatures are one ominous warning sign of global warming, so how do they affect tourism-dependent areas?

1. More Frequent Storms

Benches on beach.

Hurricanes thrive when ocean temperatures are warm, so the past few decades have seen more frequent and powerful storms in the summer and fall. Experts say the increase in hurricanes comes from climate change, with temperature, humidity, wind speed and other factors leading to more severe events. Thus, there’s more rain, flooding, and lightning to destroy tourist areas and harm local economies.

For instance, October 2023 saw Hurricane Otis devastate Acapulco, Mexico, damaging airports and causing floodwaters. Officials say it was the most dangerous hurricane Mexico had ever seen, bringing 165 mph winds when it landed. While Otis was devastating, four other tropical storms hit the nation between August and October 2023. Rising ocean temperatures have exacerbated the problems seen in such conditions.

2. Rising Sea Levels

People discuss the effects of climate change when catastrophic events occur, but less noticeable changes have also occurred over time. Ocean temperatures have risen, melting glaciers and ice sheets at the North and South poles. Therefore, the ocean has more water regardless of which sea you’re in. Climate scientists say the average sea level has increased by about 9 inches globally since 1880.

Rising sea levels have numerous consequences, with receding coastlines being among the worst for the tourism industry. Less coast means the sandy shores will have less room for people and may become unattractive to outsiders. Plus, the areas will become more prone to flooding.

A 2023 study used satellite images to observe shoreline erosion over time in Ocean Beach, San Francisco, along the California coast. The researchers say the Golden State could lose up to 75% of its coastline if the sea level rises to 3 meters.

3. Dangerous Beach Conditions

Beach conditions after rising sea levels.

The worst of coastal erosion may be decades away, but the consequences of climate change are here in the form of more dangerous beach conditions. Even shallow waters are worrisome because rip currents have become more powerful and waves increased in height. Going into the ocean can be a liability for people who can’t swim well, making this vacation less attractive for families.

Another dangerous event in oceans is algal blooms, occurring when algae rapidly grow on the water’s surface. Red tide — a hazardous type of algal bloom — overtook Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2018 and affected the state’s tourism by $184 million. Traveling to Tampa, St. Petersburg and Fort Myers became much more difficult because red tide is toxic to humans. Plus, it can harm wildlife in the ocean.

4. Damaged Ecosystems

Rising ocean temperatures force fish to migrate into unfamiliar territory, disrupting and damaging ecosystems worldwide. Many creatures — such as salmon — have headed north for colder waters because they otherwise might not survive. When fish move into new territories, they could become an invasive species and disturb the food chain. They might compete with native creatures for food and deplete resources, thus stunting growth for all.

Rising ocean temperatures also affect wildlife that can’t move around. Warmer waters have harmed coral reefs by depleting their algae content, leading to coral bleaching worldwide. Without algae, the coral turns entirely white and threatens the wildlife it shares symbiotic relationships with.

Snorkeling is a popular tourist activity in Cozumel, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia and other tropical locations with coral reefs. However, these opportunities are declining as the planet loses these precious creatures. A 2021 study says the world has lost half of its living coral since the 1950s due to human activities and there’s only so much time to recover before permanent damage sets in.

5. Endangered Wildlife

Coral is just one species you’ll see on endangered lists due to rising ocean temperatures. Numerous others are at risk because they’re having difficulty surviving the changing aquatic conditions, thus negatively impacting tourism in coastal areas. If popular animals migrate or no longer exist in certain regions, vacationer-dependent towns will lose the economic benefits they’ve thrived on for years.

Think of the most popular places to go whale watching — you may visit Reykjavik, Iceland, Baja California Sur or Quebec, Canada, and other areas along the migration path. However, whales are an endangered ocean species because of overfishing and rising ocean temperatures, so opportunities to spot them will dwindle this century.

For example, right whales are a famous sight in the Pacific Ocean, as you can see them as far north as the Bering Sea. These creatures depend on zooplankton for dinner, but their prey has seen distribution changes due to melting glaciers. 2023 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research reveals significant sea ice losses between 2002 and 2018, thus threatening Arctic Ocean ecosystems.

A 2023 Nature Climate Change study says the decline in sea ice has reduced the amount of time zooplankton spend under ice. The next 30 years could lower their under-ice time by about a month annually, depending on what region they live in. This change will affect zooplankton’s survival in the Arctic Ocean, significantly impacting the ecosystem’s food web and carbon fluxes.

If right whales can’t regularly rely on zooplankton for food, they must migrate or risk their existence. Plus, their reproduction abilities will dive and impact businesses giving whale watching tours. Experts say only about 360 right whales remain, with fewer than 70 being reproductively active female creatures. A declining birth rate has made scientists more concerned about the species’ endangerment.

6. Economic Impact

While rising ocean temperatures significantly impact coastal cities, the consequences are even more dire in nations dependent on tourism for their economies. Rising sea levels and ocean temperatures can harm coastlines, damage infrastructure, and threaten the existence of the ocean life people come to see. If tourism declines, these areas risk job losses, increased impoverished populations and other detrimental economic consequences.

For example, the Caribbean is among the most vulnerable to climate change due to the annual threat of natural disasters and high energy prices. The International Monetary Fund says the region needs about $100 billion annually in investments to adapt to future climate conditions.

Nassau, Bahamas, Kingston, Jamaica, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, are only some cities that rely on tourism for funding. Unfortunately, the economic effects of climate change will be devastating in the next few decades. These changing planet conditions will also hurt another significant part of their economies — agriculture.

A 2021 study examines climate change’s impact on agriculture and productivity in the Caribbean and Latin America. The researchers say temperatures will rise between 1.6° C and 4° C by the end of the century, resulting in losses of $14.7 billion to $31 billion and decreasing productivity until 2050. Decreased tourism, unsafe living conditions, and food insecurity could severely impact these nations and have ramifications for the rest of the globe.

7. Changing Fishing Opportunities

Fish in the ocean

Popular tourist sites like New Orleans, Lisbon and Tokyo rely on the fishing industry, but opportunities are waning because of rising ocean temperatures. If current trends continue, fishing quantity and quality will wane as some marine life scrambles to find colder waters for survival.

For example, consider the salmon population in the North Atlantic Ocean. These fish rely on temperatures below 15° Celsius to survive — otherwise, they’ll experience rapid development and defects. Rising ocean temperatures increase stress levels and prevent proper growth, thus compromising the health of these creatures.

Many coastal cities depend on the fishing industry for their economies. A decline in quality could cause companies to lengthen their supply chain and seek solutions elsewhere, thus consuming more resources. They may have to change their business plans if fish populations migrate to other areas or become extinct.

A decline in fishing opportunities would have drastic economic impacts, considering how many cities depend on the sector. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says about 600 million people — many of whom live in tourist spots — depend on fishing for their livelihoods. A declining industry may force tourism-dependent stores and restaurants to overhaul their operating models.

A changing planet won’t necessarily stop people from traveling — they’ll find other places to go or travel during different times of the year. Increasing temperatures have deterred people from visiting popular places, especially around the Mediterranean Sea.

The World Economic Forum says this region — encompassing hotspots like Rome, Italy, and Athens, Greece — has seen a 10% drop in planned trips as people opt for more northern destinations. Instead, travelers visit Ireland, Denmark, Czechia and other cooler countries to avoid heat waves.

9. Olympic Implications

Water sports - Olympics

The world gathers for the summer and winter Olympic games every two years. The International Olympic Committee typically has numerous countries bidding to be the host, but rising ocean temperatures and climate change have entirely changed the outlook.

Summer Olympics

Rising ocean temperatures directly affect water sports, as less predictable weather may force officials to delay or cancel events. Surfing has become a more popular sport in the Summer Games, but stronger waves, rip currents, and more frequent hurricanes may threaten the safety of competitors and spectators.

The effects have become apparent as the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo brought unrelenting heat. Temperatures consistently eclipsed 90° Fahrenheit with high humidity, making conditions more difficult for the athletes. A 2022 Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine Study says future games must implement systematic disease surveillance and other intervention methods to ensure everybody is safe from rising temperatures.

Winter Olympics

While the Summer Olympics are more popular, the Winter Games will see an equal or worse impact from rising global temperatures. As the years pass, fewer countries can host because they can’t provide temperatures cold enough for the athletes to compete.

A 2023 Current Issues in Tourism study says only Sapporo, Japan, will remain a viable host city even under low emission rates because other locations will become too warm. The researchers also say current emissions trends mean only four cities will be reliably cold by 2050:

10. Transportation Disruptions

Another critical aspect of rising ocean temperatures affecting tourism is transportation. Warmer waters mean the seas will become increasingly unsafe for gigantic cruise ships, which will have rippling economic effects. As the century progresses, people will be less inclined to embark on cruises if they think it’s unsafe. Tourism-dependent destinations on the American coasts and the Caribbean could see declining revenue as this industry wanes in relevance.

These changing conditions have forced ports worldwide to reconsider their infrastructure and prepare for rising sea levels. For instance, the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has installed storm surge barriers because the North Sea threatens incoming cruise ships. Cities at or below sea level must take similar measures to protect their ports and salvage tourism.

The effects of rising temperatures have already taken their toll on air and train travel, as summer heat weaves have suspended or canceled departures. Hot weather means planes struggle to take off, so extreme temperatures could ground them until it’s safe. A 2020 McKinsey study says the number of delayed flights could increase 23-fold by 2050 due to climate delays, affecting up to 185,000 passengers annually.

What Tourist Destinations Will Rising Ocean Temperatures Affect the Most?

While it will wreak havoc worldwide, higher water temperatures will negatively affect some locations more than others due to economic or geographic vulnerabilities. Here are eight popular tourist destinations that will see the greatest effects.

Miami, Florida

Miami, Florida

Miami, Florida, is a hot spot for vacationers year-round due to its warmth, rising South Atlantic Ocean temperatures make it a liability for residents and tourists. While Vice City isn’t below sea level, its low elevation is worrisome, as experts say rising sea levels threaten infrastructure.

In the short term, Miami officials say sea levels will increase 10–17 inches compared to where they were in 2000. Thus, the city will be more at risk during hurricane season, as there will be more dangerous flood zones.

While this risk is scary, experts say the dangers will become more apparent in the latter half of the century. One risk study says up to $23 billion of infrastructure in Florida could be underwater by 2050 due to climate change.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Most of the United States is above sea level, except for sections of California and Louisiana. New Orleans is among the most prominent cities at constant risk for flooding during hurricane season. The Big Easy has already seen catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina and the rest of the century will likely repeat the devastating storms.

Scientists say Louisiana could lose 800 square miles of land by 2050 due to receding coastlines, with extreme scenarios leading to 27 square miles disappearing annually. As decades pass, New Orleans will become more vulnerable to rising sea levels and see famous tourist attractions like the French Quarter become at risk.

While climate change is problematic, the city has combated rising ocean temperatures by using more renewable energy and strengthening existing buildings for floodwaters. New Orleans says it will have 100% clean energy by 2035 and 235 megawatts of local solar power by 2030.

New York City, New York

New York City, New York

The location and popularity of New York City make it a prominent tourist attraction. However, rising ocean temperatures have and will affect the United States’ largest city because of its spot on the Atlantic Coast. Experts say by mid-century, New York City will see a temperature increase of at least 6° F compared to the city’s climate between 1981 and 2010.

While its worst is yet to come, climate change has already impacted New York tourism and the gigantic local economy. The city was a prominent location for fishing lobster, but rising ocean temperatures have forced the animal’s migration toward colder waters, hurting local businesses. Experts say lobster landings dropped 97.7% between 1996 and 2014 as they migrate north toward Maine.

Los Angeles, California

The Atlantic Ocean is a central focus for climate change research because experts say it has a much stronger circulation. However, the Pacific Ocean warrants concern because its coastal cities like Los Angeles are also facing the consequences of rising ocean temperatures.

Research shows winter waves have risen by a foot since 1970, concerning locals and tourists who come to surf in California. Rising ocean temperatures and sea levels are vital for West Coast tourism because of its abundance of outdoor activities. Los Angeles destinations like the Santa Monica Pier could become less desirable for out-of-towners.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, is one of Asia’s largest metro areas, boasting a population of over 10 million people. The capital is a must-see destination for tourists worldwide because of its vibrant nightlife, terrific food and shopping opportunities. Bangkok is also a famous medical tourism location — people flock here for wellness retreats and medical procedures.

However, the large South Asian city is experiencing climate trouble due to rising ocean temperatures and sea levels. Local climate experts say the Gulf of Thailand waters rise about 1.2 cm annually, leading to a 1.3 km coastline recession. If the trend continues, Bangkok will dip below sea level within the next century, endangering locals and tourists, and preventing them from enjoying the city.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy, has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The Floating City is a famous European destination because of its extensive canal system, but this appeal is one unfortunate reason the city is sinking.

Founders built Venice in the 5th century with little knowledge of the changing climate centuries later. Since the city’s construction, the tectonic plate it sits on has caused it to sink slowly, making residents and tourists worried about its future.

Rising sea temperatures and levels have exacerbated these fears, as researchers have unveiled data concerning Venice’s future. A 2024 Frontiers in Climate Predictions and Projections study found its mean relative sea level increased by 4.9 mm annually. Additionally, the 30-year study found sea temperatures increased by 1.1° C, increasing worries about global warming.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai has quickly become a tourist destination because of its advanced architecture, skyline, hospitality, food and more. Do you want to see the world’s tallest building? You’ll need to head to the Burj Khalifa, standing at a record 2,716 feet overlooking the city. The tall buildings are one of the UAE’s defenses against rising sea levels, considering Dubai rests on the Persian Gulf.

Rising sea levels and temperatures are a significant concern for Dubai as it focuses on tourism to support its economy. Last fall, the large UAE city hosted the 23rd Conference of the Parties to discuss future action on climate change. The presentation shows much of Dubai underwater if the world continues toward a 3°C temperature increase. Reducing the increase to about 1.5°C will mitigate the liabilities coming with climate change.

Sydney, Australia

Rising ocean temperatures don’t just affect the Northern Hemisphere — you can feel the ramifications even in the Land Down Under. Sydney, Australia, is famous for its opera house, harbor bridge, warm weather and vibrant culture. However, its proximity to melting glaciers makes the rising sea temperatures and levels apparent.

The Australian government says about 80% of New South Wales residents live within 50 km of the coast, putting millions at risk as coastlines erode. Office buildings, condos, houses, parks, beaches and other public spaces will have increased fears of floods as sea levels continue to rise.

Climate change is already causing warmer average temperatures, bushfires and increased flooding in Sydney. Australian experts say the maximum temperature will increase between 0.3° C and 1.0° C by 2039, urging climate action sooner rather than later to protect residents and tourists.

Rising Ocean Temperatures and Increasing Tourism Worries

Climate change has already demonstrated its adverse effects worldwide through increased daily temperatures, volatile weather patterns and rising ocean temperatures. The warming conditions have caused nations to determine how to mitigate the worst consequences.

The changing planet has caused significant concern for the tourism industry, as many coastal cities depend on visitors for their economy. Whether the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Middle East or South Pacific, all nations see the impact of rising ocean temperatures. Flooding and recent coastlines are the most immediate worries, but wildfires and crop failure are other deep concerns.

Thank you for reading our thoughts about how rising ocean temperatures are affecting tourism.

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