One of the many side effects of global climate change is something called hypercapnia. It’s a phenomenon in which fish and other marine creatures become “intoxicated” due to an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the water. While the idea of intoxicated fish might seem silly on the face of it, the problem is quite serious.

drunk fish

Like when intoxication leads to a loss of motor control in humans, hypercapnia leads to a loss of direction sense in fish. They can’t figure out where they are or how to get home. They can’t even track predators that might prey on them. That may not sound like a big issue, but it means that fish will have a hard time breeding or keeping themselves safe. They’ll have an increased tendency to wander out of their normal ranges to areas where they won’t be able to feed or mate.

This would have an adverse affect on fishing, as there will be less fish where they’re supposed to be, which could also result in overfishing of certain areas. Combine that with smaller populations and it could spell extinction for some species.

This isn’t a recent discovery, scientists have known about this issue and have been predicting it for a while. The problem is, according to Australian researchers, that the problem is coming along a lot faster than expected. By the middle of the century, they expect fish in certain high carbon parts of the ocean to experience hypercapnia, and by the end of the century as many as half the fish in the ocean could be facing this problem.

They’re encouraging other researchers to take a look at their data and apply other models to that data, in order to gather more information on the phenomenon. It’s something that we need to avoid, for a lot of reasons, but we need to understand more about it before we can start figuring out ways to combat it.