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Tourism And Shipping Industry Threaten Antarctica’s Ecosystem as Invasive Species Are Introduced

© Courtesy of NASAEast Antarctica’s Denman Glacier
East Antarctica’s Denman Glacier - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.01.2022
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A report published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has revealed that tourism, fishing, research and supply ships connecting Antarctica to ports around the globe have introduced invasive species to a continent which is home to 70% of the globe’s fresh water.
In the report, conducted by PNAS, researchers confirm that the Southern Ocean, which supports “unique biota and represents the only global marine region without any known biological invasions” is having its biological barriers profoundly altered by climate change. That, in combination with an increase in shipping activity, threatens its current ecosystem, as invasive species find a new home among its waters.
Previously, the five major ports connected to Antarctica, including Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, had been monitored for biosecurity purposes. Between 2014 and 2018, however, researchers began looking at an additional 58 ports tied to the noteworthy continent. Now, reports of 1,581 ports are believed to be connected either directly or indirectly to Antarctica.
Some invasive species which threaten the continent’s ecosystem include the European shore crab, barnacles, mussels, and various species of algae.
For now, the tundra is protected by its extreme climate, but climate change is creating conditions in Antarctica that are increasingly livable for invasive species, according to Professor David C. Aldridge, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge found evidence from port call data and satellite images that show the ships in Antarctica mostly come from South America, northern Europe, and the western Pacific.
Antarctica is an isolated ecosystem which is not familiar with outside species. “[Its] native species have been separated for the previous 15-30 million years.” Aldridge said. This could result in an economic devastation for fisheries, he added.
While scientists are not requesting any specific regulations to be put in place regarding ships, additional biosecurity measures could be seen in the future at shipping ports. In addition, researchers warn tourists who wish to visit to make sure that no invasive organisms that could survive in the harsh ecosystem are transported to the continent on clothing or equipment.
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