Tiny Krill Could Help Unlock Global Climate Change Secrets
May 09, 2008 - Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC News
Scientists in Hobart are starting small in their bid to discover the answers to one of the world's biggest problems: they are researching krill in the hope of finding out what impact climate change may be having in the Southern Ocean.
The shrimp-like krill is one of the smallest animals in the Antarctic, but Dr Andrew Constable from the Australian Antarctic Division says it could help unlock some of the secrets of one of the world's most complex ecosystems.
"Krill is the last untapped marine fishery in the world and it's really important because krill also forms the foundation of the Antarctic foodwork," Dr Constable said.
Scientists expect that climate change will impact on the Antarctic marine ecosystem; a reduction in sea ice is one anticipated outcome.
"Krill and its population, it's very dependent on sea ice and the productivity of the system and we know that if sea ice changes the krill population is likely to change," Dr Constable said.
Krill is also harvested for aquaculture feed and to a smaller extent for human consumption.
"If you get a very, very large krill fishery there, it obviously has a chance of impacting on all the other elements of the Antarctic ecosystem," said Steve Nichols, who's also from the Australia Antarctic Division.
"So it's really important that any fishery that occurs there, occurs in a very regulated fashion."
Researchers are particularly interested in how krill harvesting is impacting on the recovery of whale species.
"Whales like to go to the ice edge to feed, that's where you find the krill aggregations," Dr Constable said.
"And if the fisheries are also fishing in the same locations then it is very clear that the fisheries could have an impact on the recovery of the great whales."
Dr Constable is this year's recipient of an international award, the prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation.
The $150,000 prize will enable him to continue his research for another three years.