Large corporations are not generally considered very eco-friendly, but this is a great example of how big industries can come together to make a positive impact on the environment.
Krill are tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that are found in every ocean. They swim in massive swarms, often so dense they can be seen from space, and together generate more biomass (nearly 500 million tonnes worth) than any other animal on earth!
In the Antarctic, krill are a keystone species, meaning they are a vital part of the delicate food chain. They are a primary food source for whales, seals, penguins, and fish. Without krill as an energy source, these larger animals could not survive in such a harsh environment.
Krill fisheries have been in decline since the 1980s
Due to recent demands for more krill in dietary supplements, fisheries have pushed themselves into overdrive at the expense of wild populations. Like fish, krill are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for your heart health. It has been argued by krill oil manufacturers that krill oil is better for you than fish-derived oil, but there is no consistent scientific research that shows any significant differences between consuming fish oil versus krill oil. Aside from dietary supplements, krill is also used in large amounts of animal feed, including fish farms.
This summer, major krill fisheries have agreed to voluntarily stop fishing in sensitive areas of the Antarctic
Since krill constitute the largest fishery in the Antarctic, this is a pretty big deal. The industries responsible make up an impressive 85% of the krill fishing fleet and are members of the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies (ARK). By choosing to no longer fish in certain areas of the Antarctic, wild krill populations will be given a better chance of repopulating.
Intrusion on other wildlife territory will be consequently reduced as well. For example, krill trawlers have been fishing increasingly close to shore and invading penguin and whale habitats. However, this voluntary halt agrees to include wildlife sanctuaries and so-called “buffer zones” around penguin habitat.
With sea ice melting and Antarctic conditions less stable, krill populations are at risk more than ever
Nearing the bottom of the food chain, Antarctic krill consume carbon-rich algae called diatoms that stick to the underside of massive ice sheets. Less ice sheets in the Antarctic mean less food for krill.
This cycle is extremely important not just for Antarctic waters but the entire world. Each night, krill migrate down to great depths in the ocean and deposit the carbon-rich waste sequestered by diatoms from the atmosphere (think photosynthesis!).
Although each individual krill is about the size of a paperclip, together, they remove around 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year! Not only are they highly valued in the food chain, but they are critical in winning the battle against climate change.
In October, The Antarctic Ocean Commission will hold a meeting in support of a new marine protected area (MPA) in the Antarctic that will cover a staggering 1.8 million square kilometers, making it the largest MPA in the world
Large corporations are not generally considered very eco-friendly, but this is a great example of how big industries can come together to make a positive impact on the environment. Neither regulations nor enforcements were needed to prevent much of the krill fishing that happens in sensitive Antarctic areas; the krill fishing industry realized it was a problem and—with the guidance of environmental organizations—decided to take initiative and do something about the problem.
But that doesn’t mean it’s completely stopped. And that’s why SeaLegacy, our partner who’s helping raise awareness about the impact of overfishing, is working to inspire the creation of marine protected areas that shield fragile wildlife from destructive krill fishing. As part of this effort, SeaLegacy is creating a proposal for CCAMLR, they key decision-making body for Antarctica.
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