Countries have banded together to propose marine reserves to protect Antarctic krill species from global warming and overfishing.
The Importance of and Threats To Krill
According to University of Colorado environmental scientist Cassandra Brooks, krill are the Southern Ocean's keystone species since so many organisms feed on them, such as whales, penguins, seabirds, fishes, and seals. They are critical in the Southern Ocean's food system.
Krill count as among the most plentiful organisms on Earth. Krill fishing is very lucrative; it is a rising industry that has almost tripled from the 1980s. In 2019, krill catch was 400,000 metric tons, with most of them caught from the Antarctic Peninsula.
Scientists are worried that climate change can cause krill population decline, or the krill might migrate to other, possibly more intensively fished areas in the coming decades. Global warming and overfishing can be critical for krill survival, according to researchers.
26 Nations Meet for Krill and Marine Life
The CCAMLR or Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources has a virtual meeting to conserve marine life in the Antarctic, including krill, and manage the fisheries in the region sustainably.
Some CCAMLR members proposed creating MPAs or Marine Protected Areas off East Antarctica's coast, Weddell Sea; and Antarctic Peninsula. These proposals aim to prohibit fishing in areas that are biologically rich while striving to allow sustainable and managed fisheries.
Mercedes Santos from Argentina says that the MPA proposal must protect the target ecosystems while also considering the various stakeholders. The area is essential for several countries.
Their proposals have been widely supported by scientists, saying this can protect the krill from being overfished, especially during this critical climate crisis that potentially threatens the peninsula's diverse ecosystem.
The Antarctic Peninsula is very much influenced by human activity, such as overfishing, the climate crisis, research expeditions, and tourism. It endangers this iconic and delicate ecosystem.
The larvae or juveniles of krill are believed to live on the sea ice, protecting them from predators and strong currents.
According to the University of Tasmania Antarctic ecosystems expert Stuart Corney, they worked on the last two years on understanding the extent of sea ice in winter and how krill use it. Corney says that krill favor uneven and rough ice.
Threats to Krill
These habitats may vanish together with the decreasing ice, which will affect krill populations. According to Boston University scientist Emily Klein, krill growth may also be inhibited by rising temperatures.
If krill do not increase populations, they might be diminished from the increased consumption of predators and increased fishing.
Some researchers also say that warmer waters and declining sea ice may cause the krill to migrate to other Southern Ocean regions, where fishing may be more intensive.
According to modeling by researchers, krill populations will likely decrease from climate change. This will also lead to a decrease of their predators. Ultimately, these cascading may negatively alter the ecosystem of the Antarctic.
MPAs and Krill
Marine reserves can help increase Antarctic krill species populations even with global warming and even help the fisheries industry even as it curbs overfishing.
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