New report shows krill populations in Antarctic at risk

15th Feb 2018

A gentoo penguin from Bird Island in sub-Antarctic waters (Credit: James Robbins)

New research has suggested that the population of krill, one of the lynchpins of the oceans food chain, may be under significant threat as a result of climate change and industrial scale fishing.

Researchers at the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the decision making body for protecting the Antarctic, found that climate change has the potential to reduce the speed at which krill reach full size, which may dramatically decrease the size of their population in the future.

The findings also attribute significant impact to the increase in industrial fishing in the region, with a sharp growth in demand for krill-based products seen in a growth of the sector of 12% per year predicted annually until 2021.

The indiscriminate "suction" fishing methods employed gathering vast quantities of the creature and, according to reports in The Guardian, will exacerbate the issue for marine life in the region.

Global krill populations are critical for many species, including baleen whales such as blue whales, humpback whales and southern right whales which are found in this area of the world. Any impact on their population could be catastrophic for these species, and will also threaten other species such as penguins and seals.

The report particularly highlights penguins as being as serious threat, as some species are very local foragers and as a result even small shifts in abundance and distribution could have a profound affect on their ability to feed in this region.

Campaigners globally have been pushing for greater protection of Antartic waters, one of the last areas of the planet that has remained relatively untouched by human activity. In particular, a 1.8m square kilometre reserve has been proposed that would see that largest area of protected ocean on the planet and help safeguard some species that are at significant risk of extinction.

ORCA work with Wildlife & Countryside Link (WCL) to help promote more sustainable fishing and better protection for the ocean through government, and as a key player in Antarctica, the UK government will have a key role in protecting this wonderful natural habitat for generations to come.