In for the Krill
Protection for marine life relies on evidence from an LWEC stock-taking activity
2009 saw a milestone in marine conservation. A 94,000km2 area of ocean, south of the South Orkney Islands which lie just 600km from Antarctica, was designated a Marine Protected Area – the first in the world located entirely within the High Seas.
But this wouldn’t have been possible without the weight of evidence generated by the LWEC-accredited Southern Ocean Fisheries and Climate Change initiative and submitted to the 24-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
All marine ecosystems are finely balanced. In the Southern Ocean, shrimp-like invertebrates called krill are a key link in the food chain but krill stocks are being impacted not just by commercial fishing (the annual krill catch to service demand for Omega 3 fish oil and other markets is 200,000 tonnes and rising) but also by climate change, already apparent in sea-ice losses around the West Antarctic Peninsula. Unravelling these two impacts and providing a scientific basis for policies to protect krill stocks – and thus the species of seabird, marine mammal, fish and squid that depend on them – is the initiative’s core objective.
“Through long-term ecological research and computer modelling, we’ve established that climate change is having a big impact,” says Dr Phil Trathan of the British Antarctic Survey. “And if krill are vulnerable, so are the species that feed on them. The Southern Ocean is already showing clear signs of change, particularly in the South West Atlantic where climate change is most pronounced and all krill fishing takes place. But as the establishment of that initial Marine Protected Area demonstrates, generating better data about what’s happening can stimulate the international community to take meaningful steps to protect the wider marine ecosystem.”