Scientists are calling for the Antarctica Peninsula to be declared as a marine protected area. The West Antarctic peninsula is fast warming, and it is the home of many threatened minke and humpback whales, Gentoo penguins, leopard seals, Adélie penguins, killer whales, chinstrap penguins, skuas, krill, and giant petrels.
The sea ice has been dwindling, and the melting is now more rapid because of climate change. Due to this, a lot of wildlife habitats already decreased. The delicate balance of the ecosystem is being disturbed, which threatens the existence of many species.
Also, there are cumulative threats from many human activities, such as tourism, research activities, and commercial fishing.
Commentary From a Coalition of Female Scientists
Dr. Carolyn Hogg of the School of Life & Environmental Sciences of the University of Sydney participated in an all-female scientific expedition last year in the peninsula, together with the Homeward Bound initiative STEMM.
They published a new commentary that was published in the journal Nature. The article outlined the threats and provided solutions for neutralizing them.
One solution Hogg mentioned is to ratify the creation of a Marine Protected Area in the place. This will be discussed by governments managing the site on October 19. Hogg says that there are several threats to the region, with a catastrophic cumulative effect.
Seventy percent of all krill in the Antarctic is in the peninsula. Climate change and commercial fishing are affecting their populations, which are threatened by commercial fisheries.
The year 2019 had the third-largest catch of krill ever recorded. A harvest of almost 400,000 tons was used as ingredients for fishmeal and omega-3 supplements.
According to co-author Dr. Cassandra Brooks from the University of Colorado, even relatively small harvests can significantly harm the ecosystem if it is critical for species there that depend on krill.
For instance, during the breeding season of penguins, if they have less food intake from human harvesting, their breeding success will be affected.
Brooks says that the establishment and immediate implementation of a Marine Protected Area can protect the ecosystem and the wildlife in it.
Climate Change Effects on the West Antarctic
The climate crisis is changing the West Antarctic fundamentally. Some of the alterations include higher average temperatures, rapid reduction of glaciers, and the lowest sea ice levels ever recorded.
The receding sea ice affects the juvenile and larval krill populations because they use it as shelter. They also feed on the area’s algae. Less sea ice also helps invasive species dislodge local species, which also disturbs ecosystem balance.
The Carbon Footprint From Research and Tourism
The West Antarctic peninsula has the highest volume of tourists in the entire Antarctic continent because it is close to South America and its stunning landscapes and rich sea ecosystem.
Tourist volume increased more than twice within the last ten years, with 74,000 tourists last year from a mere 33,000 during 2009.
According to co-author University of Queensland Dr. Justine Shaw, ships bring pollution from microplastics, among other pollutants, including noise and oil.
Researchers also damage the region, with scientific facilities from 18 countries present in the peninsula. There is also continued expansions of research stations. These infrastructures displace vegetation and wildlife.
Protecting the Peninsula
According to the authors, the peninsula must have an MPA or Marine Protected Area designation. This reduces commercial fishing in sensitive areas, helping to preserve sustainability and the food web.
The land must also be protected to conserve biodiversity. And finally, conservation efforts must be integrated to ensure their effectiveness. Efforts should also be collaborative in conserving the Antarctica Peninsula and declaring and maintaining its marine protected area.
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