When it comes to the importance of climate change, we often give little attention to how it impacts our recreational time. How will the effects of global warming change what we do outdoors.? While the impacts of climate change on outdoor recreation are less pressing than others — such as property damage and food shortages — the impacts on our outdoor activities are still important considerations.
For one, less recreation means our lifestyles become even more sedentary. For another, less time in our natural playground means less appreciation for it. And reverence for nature is something that helps preserve it. So, to protect our health and well-being, we need to understand how climate change impacts what we do outdoors.
Here are five ways global warming is changing outdoor recreation.
Glacial melting is causing ocean currents to shift and sea levels to rise. Rising ocean levels cause coastal erosion, chipping away at beach areas. Heavier precipitation means more runoff and sediment, which is affecting access roads, parking lots, and entryways to beaches. These pollutants make beaches less desirable places for activities like parasailing or sunbathing. Surfers are being hit hard, too. While surfing is mentally and physically beneficial, to those who take it seriously, it’s more than just a therapeutic activity, but rather a lifestyle that comes with a tight-knit community.
For some small coastal regions, surfing tourism is a main source of income and keeps towns running. But rising ocean levels are altering tides, changing wave height, and shifting the way waves break in specific areas. It’s also shifting entire surfs to less accessible areas, impacting local businesses and entire surfing communities.
Fishing and Boating
Imagine traveling several hours to your favorite fishing spot, only to be faced with an official-looking sign reading: “Beach closed due to E. Coli.” These are real recreational challenges facing many anglers and boaters today. Threats from E. coli and algal blooms are becoming more common as waters warm around the globe. These invading species produce dangerous toxins for aquatic life and humans. In response, boating and fishing enthusiasts are waiting until later in the day to head out, heading inland to find better spots, or avoiding these infected areas altogether.
Some popular lakes like Lake Mead in the Southwest are seeing lower water levels as annual rainfall declines and glacial retreat throttles freshwater runoff. Dried up lakes and rivers certainly limit fishing opportunities, but they also make boating more dangerous. Low water levels can quickly reveal previously hidden dangers like rocks and debris. Plus, less water will change the shape of a lake’s bank line and eliminate accessible boat ramps.
For salmon fishers, global warming is threatening sockeye salmon spawning by raising freshwater stream temperatures. Severe storms and floods are destroying spawning habitats and washing away salmon eggs. Warm waters also make sockeye more susceptible to parasites. And glacier retreat is lowering river levels, making the salmons’ upstream migration harder.
Snorkeling and scuba diving in some places are getting less desirable because of the impact of ocean acidification. The oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air. As CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere, levels in the oceans increase as well. Increased levels of CO2 causes ocean water to become more acidic. This “ocean acidification” eats away at any aquatic species with shells or structures made from carbonate.
Acidification is affecting barrier reefs, draining them of their vibrant colors. These “bleaching events” are transforming beautiful underwater dive sites like the Great Barrier Reef into bone-white graveyards. And these reefs are home to millions of aquatic species like the clownfish and sea anemone. Scuba divers looking for picturesque underwater seascapes won’t find these species once these reefs disappear.
Hiking and Camping
Wildfires in the western United States are happening more frequently and burning longer. The 2018 Camp Fire fire in Northern California was the most destructive fire in California’s history. Global warming is creating drier conditions, putting popular state parks and forest hiking trails at risk.
Few hikers and campers want to visit burned areas because of the effects these fires have. Trees no longer provide shade. Trails become impassable from fallen trees. The absence of grass leads to an increase in mudslides. Less rainfall requires campers and hikers to transport more of their own water. Plus, warmer temps are boosting rates of Lyme disease in some areas of the country. Together, these threats are making popular destinations for hiking and camping too dangerous or inaccessible.
But it’s not only fire that’s a problem. Melting ice and glacial retreat is also creating dangerous situations at popular hiking destinations. In Washington state, hiking guides along Mount Rainier and Mount Baker are noticing changes to paths because of melting glaciers. As the snow and ice melt, chunks are falling onto familiar routes up the mountain, making it more difficult to summit. Larger ice chunks are even blocking trails, and smaller ones are becoming falling debris. The ice works like a “glue” that helps hold these mountains together. As their icy cover melts, their rocks, boulders, and debris become dangerous objects.
Global warming is changing almost every outdoor activity to one degree or another. But it also has serious implications for ski resorts, hunting lodges, and other recreation businesses that depend on campers, hunters, and snowboarders. Recreation is an $887 billion industry that supports 7.6 million U.S. jobs.
So, as we adjust to lower water levels on our boat trips, we also need to safely navigate the economic impacts of global warming. If overall recreation declines, businesses will close, which will then lead to less recreation. The result is an economic spiral where the loss in support for one ensures the demise of the other.
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