Friday, October 22, 2010

Krill: 1 species, 2 enemies

About 90 scientists and support staff set sail on the Aurora Australis, out of Hobart, Australia last week. Their ship will be dragging a small device that traps plankton. Specifically the group is interested in krill, which are at the base of - and one of the most important aspects to - the Antarctic food chain. Dr. Graham Hosie, who is leading the group says that over the years, with similar studies, his group has been finding fewer and fewer krill.

“They are extremely sensitive to their environment. We’ve found that even subtle changes in pattern across the ocean with the oceanography, natural patterns, the plankton can respond very abruptly in composition.

“So we are using the plankton as an indicator of ocean health.

“And because the are the foundation of the system, if they’re changing, we then look to see if there’s any flow-on effect through the rest of the ecosystem.”

This coincides well with a recent statement put out by the Pew Environment Group. Their Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP) is urging the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) parties at their upcoming meeting to require significantly increased scientific observation of the fishery. This comes at a time when krill fishing is at an all time high, having doubled in the last three years alone and showing no sign of slowing down.

Pew is calling on the CCAMLR parties to adopt precautionary measures to protect krill and the iconic ocean wildlife that depend on it.

To draw attention to the urgency of the problem, the AKCP created a photo petition website (which we’ve mentioned on the ASOC Facebook page) where people can upload their photos and ask CCAMLR to manage the krill fishery in a way that protects this important and delicate food source. The international photo mosaic has almost 10,000 photographs from individuals around the world who care about better protections for penguins. It will be delivered next week to the CCAMLR delegates when they meet to decide on how to manage the krill fishery.

As Dr. Hosie and his researchers have confirmed, krill are already facing great difficulty in dealing with the changing climate. With krill facing two enemies – climate change and over fishing – it is imperative that there be far greater controls over the krill fishing industry. As Hosie pointed out, krill act as a bellwether for what is to come for the rest of the Antarctic ecosystem. If krill continue to decline because of climate change and overfishing, the same effect will ripple through the bird and whale populations that rely on them so heavily.

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