For tourists from around the world, scuba diving and snorkeling in Australia’s waters has long been reason enough to pay high fare prices and board 12-hour-plus flights. But with more than 80 scientists from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) warning of “striking evidence” that the island’s tropical fish are moving southward, future visitors may find a very different underwater landscape than those who came before them.

CSIRO blames the mass migration on climate change. “Climate change is already happening; widespread physical changes include rapid warming of the southeast and increasing flow of the east Australia current.… There is now striking evidence of extensive southward movements of tropical fish and plankton species in southeast Australia, declines in abundance of temperate species, and the first signs of the effect of ocean acidification on marine species with shells,” the report said.

It is unclear what will be the long-term impacts of these changes. Dr. Elvira Poloczanska, the leading scientist on the study, said, “The potential is there for animals and plants to shift, but whether they do or not depends how well they can deal with changes in their current environment.” As food chains and habitats shift, species will begin coming into contact with other species for the first time. Sea urchins, turtles and sea snakes are just a few of the species whose behaviors have noticeably changed.

But Dr. Poloczanska noted there could be some potential positives in the situation, as some kinds of fish will be better able to adapt to the warming than had been previously thought. She also noted the important role oceans play in Australia, providing “coastal defense, oxygen production, nutrient recycling and climate regulation.” She added, “It’s important we make decisions about the future.”

Main photo credit: Fotopedia