Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, is a species of krill found in the Antarctic waters of the Southern Ocean. It is a small, swimming crustacean that lives in large schools, called swarms, sometimes reaching densities of 10,000-30,000 individual animals per cubic metre. It feeds directly on small phytoplankton, which grow on the underside of the Antarctic ice sheet. While many people envision krill as microscopic creatures, each individual can in fact grow to 5 cm in length, weigh up to 2 grams and live for 11 years. They are a key species in the Antarctic ecosystem and is, in terms of biomass, probably the most abundant animal species on the planet.
After depleting many of the world’s oceans of their fish, companies are now going after what’s left at the bottom of the food chain – the tiny krill at the very heart of the Antarctic ecosystem. Using giant factory-ships, seafood companies are vacuuming the oceans clean by sucking up the krill that so many other marine creatures depend on.
Simultaneously, Antarctic ice is melting due to climate change, depleting the krill’s ice algae food source. The end result is that since the 1970s, the krill population has already dropped by 80%. Furthermore, recent scientific research now shows that Antarctic penguin populations, which depend on krill, have collapsed by 50% in studied colonies over the last 30 years. With climate change accelerating, pressure will relentlessly increase on this delicate ecosystem.
The krill fishing vessels in the Antarctic Ocean have a six-month season, beginning in February of each year. These so called “ships”, which are really floating industrial factories, can exceed 120 meters in length. They vacuum the ocean for krill and then process it onboard. Today the capacity of these fleets to harvest Antarctica’s “pink gold” krill is exploding, with the total hold capacity of licensed ships rising 44% in just the last two years.
The Southern Ocean is a wasp-waist ecosystem, meaning there are many species depending on one food source – krill. The vast schools of krill not only function as food for whales, penguins, seals and seabirds, but they are also huge carbon sinks that help mitigate global warming. No one can say exactly how vast these schools of krill actually are; estimations vary widely depending on which method is used. What we do know thanks to presentations by Antarctic experts to the United Nations is that global warming will continue, and that krill habitats will thus shrink.
The krill killers are ignoring the facts . . . but maybe the market won’t
Krill fishing companies argue international catch limits are far too low. Today they are actually working hard to take even more krill in their “harvest”. China clearly intends to boost its krill harvest and they are not alone in their quest to expand fisheries in the Antarctic as numerous other countries and companies are hoping to do the same.
This exploitation is ultimately dependent on market demand for krill-based products. Krill is used as fish food in aquaculture and as an omega-3 supplement for human nutrition; unfortunately both these markets are expected to grow sharply in coming years according to market researchers at Reuters. The route to the market for omega-3 supplements is presently provided by a number of major dietary supplement companies, including Blackmores, Swisse, MegaRed, PharmaCare and others.
Plundering krill in an already-threatened ecosystem is extremely reckless, to say the least. With your help and support, we can together make these Australian dietary supplement companies, and the Australian people in general, aware of this threat on the delicate Southern Ocean ecosystem.