SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 14, 2018

SNIP: The Antarctic, one of the world’s last great wildernesses and home to animals such as whales, penguins and leopard seals, is being threatened by the plight of an animal just a few centimetres long, according to scientists.

Researchers and environmental campaigners warn that a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is threatening the krill population in Antarctic waters, with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators.

The report, published in the journal Plos One, warned that climate change could reduce krill size by up to 40% in some areas of Antarctica’s Scotia Sea causing a drastic reduction in predator numbers.

Researchers also said that current permitted rates of krill fishing “increased the risk for depletion of some predator populations” although it had “less impact than ocean warming”.

Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s. Global warming has been blamed for part of that decrease because the ice that is home to the algae and plankton they feed on is retreating.

Campaigners say recent developments in fishing technology are exacerbating the problem, allowing ‘suction’ harvesting by large trawlers which are now able to gather up vast quantities of krill.

Krill are a key part of the delicate Antarctic food chain. They feed on marine algae and are a key source of food for whales, penguins and seals. They are also important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water.