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Southern Ocean Majorly Suffers from Climate Change

A  group of experts from around the world has noticed that the Southern Ocean is not being properly preserved.

Southern Ocean Majorly Suffers from Climate Change

Image Credit: demamiel62/ 

The Southern Ocean has enormous global value because of its influence on global ocean temperature, sea levels, and carbon storage. The Southern Ocean's marine native species serve in the food web, sustaining marine mammals, seabirds, and fish.

In a new report, a group of experts, including UBC researchers, claim that members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCLAMR) and other nations are not adequately preserving it.

With no Indigenous Peoples in Antarctica, and no local fishing communities, exploitation of the waters surrounding Antarctica has always been the result of industrial distant water activities. Species such as toothfish, the region’s top fish predator, Antarctic krill, and mackerel are being overexploited by fishers, to the detriment of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, including local fauna, such as whales and native seabirds.

Dr. Cassandra Brooks, Study Lead Author and Professor, Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

Dr. Brooks cited direct competition from the krill fishery, which killed three young humpback whales, 16 seals, and 59 seabirds over the previous two seasons in 2021.

Climate change is a major stressor for the Southern Ocean, according to the study. Sea ice is melting at an astonishing rate, while ocean acidity and increasing temperatures are forcing populations into other zones, allowing for year-round fishing. At present levels, fishing will most likely increase environmental impacts on toothfish and Antarctic krill, as well as the larger Southern Ocean ecosystem, which includes competing birds and mammals.

As krill play a critical role in the ecosystem and biogeochemical cycles, changes in their population are predicted to negatively impact the ecosystem services provided by the Southern Ocean, including a reduction in krill carbon storage and a decrease in whales’ ability to draw down carbon and nutrients to the seafloor.

Antarctic fish have been easily overexploited, and many of these fisheries continue to be economically viable only on account of government subsidies which, as has been shown, contribute to overfishing. The remoteness of the Antarctic means that fuel use is high, leaving a disproportionate carbon footprint for fishing. Further, some fisheries are still targeted by illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries.

Dr. Rashid Sumaila, Study Senior Author and Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia

Dr. Rashid Sumaila is also associated with the school of global affairs and public policy.

The scientists emphasized their support for several suggestions that have previously been presented to CCAMLR, such as a set of tools based on science for managing marine systems for ecological and climate resilience.

The Southern Ocean should be valued beyond its extractive value. Comprehensively mapping and then assessing the area in terms of ecosystem services should be done. It is important to evaluate this international zone in terms of social perceptions from stakeholders and all non-monetary values, including the significance of its marine mammals and birds, its role in our earth systems, its value as a global wilderness, and its contribution to peace and science.

Dr. Louise Teh, Study Co-Author and Research Associate, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia

Dr. Sumaila states, “Both current and future generations would suffer greatly if this area continues to be misused. Prioritizing conservation into CCAMLR values, management, and trade-offs in tandem with the wider Antarctic Treaty System, which is included in the CCAMLR Convention is necessary.”

Dr. Sumaila explained, “The CCAMLR, during its meetings taking place this week and next, should push more forceful approaches to protecting this highly important and vulnerable area. This includes introducing more stringent catch limits, and expanding the current Ross Sea marine protected area to an ecologically representative network of Southern Ocean MPAs.”

A complete moratorium on finfish fishing may even be required if the species in the Antarctic Peninsula region continue to be vulnerable: unable to combat climate change or rebuild their stocks due to the overfishing pressure,” concludes Dr. Sumaila.

Journal Reference:

Brooks, C., et al. (2022) Protect global values of the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Science.


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