Climate change may be the most well-known threat to Antarctica. But the animals that inhabit its ecosystem and the Southern Ocean ― penguins, seals, whales and other marine wildlife ― face another challenge: the shrinking population of krill, a crucial component of their diet.
"CCAMLR must adopt precautionary measures to protect krill and the iconic ocean wildlife that depends on it."
-Gerald Leape, senior officer, International Policy, Pew Environment Group
Weighing in at only two grams each, krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that are central to the Antarctic food chain. They spend most of their time in huge swarms that measure kilometers across, consisting of as many as 30,000 per cubic meter.
Krill live in dense concentrations making it easy for penguins, whales, albatross and other predators to consume as many as they need. But krill face another major threat. Demand from the growing aquaculture industry and the global public’s increasing appetite for Omega 3s continue to fuel industrial fishing for krill in the Southern Ocean, where fleets of fishing vessels trawl in coastal waters that are key foraging areas for krill’s predators.
Scientists have shown that even localized krill depletion has a negative impact on penguin, whale and seal populations. Because krill are at the base of the area's food chain, krill overfishing could affect the entire Antarctic ecosystem.
The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ― a regional fisheries management organization comprised of 25 nations, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, the European Union, China, Norway and Japan ― has been responsible for conserving marine life in the Antarctic since its founding in 1982. But CCAMLR's current krill management program does not take into account the uncertain effects that climate change may have on the Southern Ocean’s krill population.
“CCAMLR must adopt precautionary measures to protect krill and the iconic ocean wildlife that depends on it," says project director Gerald Leape.
The Pew Environment Group's Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP) continues to push CCAMLR to enforce more stringent, scientifically-based fishing limits. The ecosystem-based management system that CCAMLR needs to adopt will keep krill, and the animals that rely on it, healthy and thriving.