Why This Octopus Has People Talking About Climate Change

November 18th 2016

Dave Fonseca

"Florida is the land of the weird," University of Miami Professor Kenny Broad told ATTN: during a phone conversation on Friday afternoon.

Given the Sunshine State's history of producing unusual news headlines, the professor of marine ecosystems and society could have been referring to just about anything. However, in this case, he was talking about the viral image of an octopus washing up in a Miami Beach parking garage on Monday.

The image, which was posted on Monday to Facebook by Florida man Richard Collin, prompted this headline by the Miami Herald.

The Herald's headline writers weren't the only ones to draw a connection between the viral image and rising sea-levels brought on by climate change.

The Herald quotes University of Miami associate biology professor Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, who verified the authenticity of the photos, and laid out a plausible scenario for how rising levels guided the octopus into the parking garage.

Due to exceptionally high tides brought on by Monday's Supermoon, the drainage pipes below the building were submerged, Sealey said. The octopus was likely flushed into the garage while seeking a meal, and a comfortable, confined space, inside the pipes.

So, is the Octopus photo really the "canary in the coal mine" it's been made out to be?

Broad said he worries that attributing individual phenomena to climate change just provides ammunition to skeptics, who will eagerly attempt to debunk the connection.

However, Broad said man-made climate change is causing rising sea-levels, and continued coastal development is putting communities at risk of much more than octopi in their parking garages.

"The environmental events we’ve had for decades and decades will do more damage," Broad said.

miami coast

Even by conservative estimates, the impacts on coastal communities by unabated sea-level rise will be devastating. According to 2010 report in Nature, if the oceans were to rise by just two feet by 2060, "Miami, would be underwater, along with two nuclear reactors, 68 hospitals, 334 public schools and 1,362 hotels, motels and inns."

More dire predictions, like one produced this year by researchers at University of Massachusetts and Penn State University predicting six-feet of sea level rise by 2100, would result in approximately 6.5 million people losing their homes due to flooding.

"We’ve had 'king tides' for a long time before it was en vogue to take about climate change, but climate change does exacerbate existing conditions," Broad told ATTN:. "We’re going to have king tides of the same severity, but because of the rising sea-levels, they're going to do more damage."