These crustaceans are tiny but play a crucial role in restriction climate change. An ocean sanctuary would safeguard them, writes nature expert Chris Packham
What’s small, pink, and can be seen from space? The answer depends on your perspective.
To the whales, seals and penguins of the Antarctic: it’s dinner. To you and me: it’s a small creature called krill, which forms the bedrock of the Antarctic food web. But regrettably, and as a new report by Greenpeace lays bare, for an expanding multimillion dollar fishing industry: it’s an investment opportunity.
One of the quirks of life on our planet is that the biggest animals to have ever lived, blue whales, depend on something no bigger than your little finger: krill. Gathering in their billions, these tiny crustaceans form vast cloud of pink in Antarctic water which can stretch for miles and show up in satellite imagery.
Blue, humpback, fin and minke whales all devour krill- some up to two tonnes in a single day. Penguin colonies across the Antarctic are strewn with pink-stained snow because of the volume of krill they feed. Fur seals, crabeater seals, and many more animals rely on them. Even the things that don’t eat krill usually eat something that does: albatross, leopard seals and killer whales are all indirectly dependent on krill.
Companies fishing in the Antarctic for krill usually market themselves as sustainable and trustworthy- as the good guys health supplements such as Omega-3 pills for clean-living individuals, along with fishmeal for farmed fish and pet food. But sustainability in the Antarctic ecosystem is a risky claim, when there is such patchy data, when the industry’s angling overlaps with feeding grounds, and when the impact of climate change is already causing a decline in krill populations. History tells us that even species with huge populations can be driven to the point of breakdown. In the 19 th century no one would have believed that the most abundant bird on Earth, the passenger pigeon, could be hunted to extinction through the shooting of more than 5 billion birds.
Meanwhile the practice of transhipment means that catch is often transferred at sea to filthy shipment barges, or “reefers”. Many of these ships are deployed in the Antarctic to allow the trawlers to remain at sea for months at a time, and their utilize has been linked to environmental and labour abuses.
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