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Human impacts on the marine ecosystems of Antarctica

erature range.

A second major consequence of carbon dioxide emission from human activities ocean acidification is also likely to take its toll. "The Southern Ocean is the canary in the coal mine with respect to ocean acidification. This vulnerability is caused by a combination of ocean mixing patterns and low temperature enhancing the solubility of carbon dioxide," noted co-author Dr. James McClintock of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA.

"Simultaneous action at local, regional and global scales is needed if we are to halt the damage being done to the marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean," urged Dr Aronson.

The researchers have identified a range of historical and ongoing human activities that have damaged or restructured food webs in the Southern Ocean over recent decades. At the local to regional scale, these include

  • The hunting of top predators such as whales and seals.
  • Overexploitation of some fish species, leading to stock collapses.
  • Air and water pollution from shipping traffic, wrecks, and the transport of invasive alien species on hulls and in ballast tanks.
  • Tourism, including potential disturbance to breeding bird and seal colonies, as well as being responsible for chemical and noise pollution, and littering.
  • Chemical and sewage pollution from research stations and ships, the legacy of historical waste dumping, and pollution from scientific experiments, including lost or unrecovered equipment.

Antarctica has great, untapped natural resources. The Antarctic Treaty currently prohibits the extraction of oil and other mineral resources from Antarctica. The researchers note, however, that many major areas of the Southern Ocean fall outside the Antarctic Treaty region and could be claimed by nations as valuable 'real estate' for the future.

Although the Antarctic Treaty and other conventions have measures aimed at reducing the local- and regional-scale i

Contact: Dr. Rory Howlett
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)

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