Currently, almost 8% of the world's oceans are designated marine protected areas (MPAs), the majority of which are relatively small and under national jurisdiction. Several initiatives are presently underway in international waters to establish large-scale MPAs, such as for the Southern Ocean under the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). By reviewing the MPA initiative in the Weddell Sea (WSMPA), we aim to guide through the planning steps involved in developing an MPA in the high seas of the Southern Ocean in the context of an international organisation, i.e. CCAMLR. We focus also on the associated science-policy discussion process. To this end, we examine the WSMPA roadmap retrospectively from its beginning in 2013 until today. We discuss the individual planning steps and how these have been designed in detail. Throughout, we show that the planning of the WSMPA was based on a collaborative, science-based process that exemplified best practice in applied science. Lastly, we also provide an outlook on the current situation regarding the establishment of CCAMLR MPAs and point out that scientific best practice may not be sufficient to achieve the consensus and political drive ultimately required for the designation of MPAs in the Southern Ocean.
The Northern Antarctic Peninsula (NAP), located in West Antarctica, is amongst the most impacted regions by recent warming events. Its vulnerability to climate change has already led to an accumulation of severe changes along its ecosystems. This work reviews the current findings on impacts observed in phytoplankton communities occurring in the NAP, with a focus on its causes, consequences, and the potential research priorities toward an integrated comprehension of the physical–biological coupling and climate perspective. Evident changes in phytoplankton biomass, community composition and size structure, as well as potential bottom-up impacts to the ecosystem are discussed. Surface wind, sea ice and meltwater dynamics, as key drivers of the upper layer structure, are identified as the leading factors shaping phytoplankton. Short- and long-term scenarios are suggested for phytoplankton communities in the NAP, both indicating a future increase of the importance of small flagellates at the expense of diatoms, with potential devastating impacts for the ecosystem. Five main research gaps in the current understanding of the phytoplankton response to climate change in the region are identified: (i) anthropogenic signal has yet to be disentangled from natural climate variability; (ii) the influence of small-scale ocean circulation processes on phytoplankton is poorly understood; (iii) the potential consequences to regional food webs must be clarified; (iv) the magnitude and risk of potential changes in phytoplankton composition is relatively unknown; and (v) a better understanding of phytoplankton physiological responses to changes in the environmental conditions is required. Future research directions, along with specific suggestions on how to follow them, are equally suggested. Overall, while the current knowledge has shed light on the response of phytoplankton to climate change, in order to truly comprehend and predict changes in phytoplankton communities, there must be a robust collaboration effort integrating both Antarctic research programs and the whole scientific community under a common research framework.
To implement ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, decision makers need insight on the potential costs and benefits of the policy options available to them. In the Southern Ocean, two such options for addressing trade-offs between krill-dependent predators and the krill fishery include “feedback management” (FBM) strategies and marine protected areas (MPAs); in theory, the first adjusts to change, while the latter is robust to change. We compared two possible FBM options to a proposed MPA in the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea given a changing climate. One of our feedback options, based on the density of Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba), projected modest increases in the abundances of some populations of krill predators, whereas outcomes from our second FBM option, based on changes in the abundances of penguins, were more mixed, with some areas projecting predator population declines. The MPA resulted in greater increases in some, but not all, predator populations than either feedback strategy. We conclude that these differing outcomes relate to the ways the options separate fishing and predator foraging, either by continually shifting the spatial distribution of fishing away from potentially vulnerable populations (FBM) or by permanently closing areas to fishing (the MPA). For the krill fishery, we show that total catches could be maintained using an FBM approach or slightly increased with the MPA, but the fishery would be forced to adjust fishing locations and sometimes fish in areas of relatively low krill density–both potentially significant costs. Our work demonstrates the potential to shift, rather than avoid, ecological risks and the likely costs of fishing, indicating trade-offs for decision makers to consider.
In this study, we present unique data collected with a Surface and Under-Ice Trawl (SUIT) during five campaigns between 2012 and 2017, covering the spring to summer and autumn transition in the Arctic Ocean, and the seasons of winter and summer in the Southern Ocean. The SUIT was equipped with a sensor array from which we retrieved: sea-ice thickness, the light field at the underside of sea ice, chlorophyll a concentration in the ice (in-ice chl a), and the salinity, temperature, and chl a concentration of the under-ice water. With an average trawl distance of about 2 km, and a global transect length of more than 117 km in both polar regions, the present work represents the first multi-seasonal habitat characterization based on kilometer-scale profiles. The present data highlight regional and seasonal patterns in sea-ice properties in the Polar Ocean. Light transmittance through Arctic sea ice reached almost 100% in summer, when the ice was thinner and melt ponds spread over the ice surface. However, the daily integrated amount of light under sea ice was maximum in spring. Compared to the Arctic, Antarctic sea-ice was thinner, snow depth was thicker, and sea-ice properties were more uniform between seasons. Light transmittance was low in winter with maximum transmittance of 73%. Despite thicker snow depth, the overall under-ice light was considerably higher during Antarctic summer than during Arctic summer. Spatial autocorrelation analysis shows that Arctic sea ice was characterized by larger floes compared to the Antarctic. In both Polar regions, the patch size of the transmittance followed the spatial variability of sea-ice thickness. In-ice chl a in the Arctic Ocean remained below 0.39 mg chl a m−2, whereas it exceeded 7 mg chl a m−2 during Antarctic winter, when water chl a concentrations remained below 1.5 mg chl a m−2, thus highlighting its potential as an important carbon source for overwintering organisms. The data analyzed in this study can improve large-scale physical and ecosystem models, habitat mapping studies and time series analyzed in the context of climate change effects and marine management.
The composition, spatial structure, diversity and abundance of Antarctic nematode and copepod meiobenthic communities was examined in shallow (5–25 m) marine coastal sediments at Casey Station, East Antarctica. The sampling design incorporated spatial scales ranging from 10 meters to kilometers and included testing for human impacts by comparing polluted (metal and hydrocarbon contaminated sediments adjacent to old waste disposal sites) and control areas. A total of 38 nematode genera and 20 copepod families were recorded with nematodes being dominant, comprising up to 95% of the total abundance. Variation was greatest at the largest scale (km’s) but each location had distinct assemblages. At smaller scales there were different patterns of variation for nematodes and copepods. There were significant differences between communities at control and impacted locations. Community patterns had strong correlations with concentrations of metals introduced by human activity in sediments as well as sediment grain size and total organic content. Given the strong association with environmental patterns, particularly those associated with human impacts, we provide further evidence that meiofauna are very useful indicators of anthropogenic environmental changes in Antarctica.
In the Antarctic Circumpolar Current region of the Southern Ocean, the massive phytoplankton blooms stemming from islands support large trophic chains. Contrary to islands, open ocean seamounts appear to sustain blooms of lesser intensity and, consequently, are expected to play a negligible role in the productivity of this area. Here we revisit this assumption by focusing on a region of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current zone which is massively targeted by marine predators, even if no island fertilizes this area. By combining high resolution bathymetric data, Lagrangian analyses of altimetry-derived velocities and chlorophyll a observations derived from BGC-Argo floats and ocean color images, we reveal that the oligotrophic nature of the study region considered in low chlorophyll a climatological maps hides in reality a much more complex environment. Significant (chlorophyll a in excess of 0.6 mg/m3) phytoplankton blooms spread over thousands of kilometers and have bio-optical signatures similar to the ones stemming from island systems. By adopting a Lagrangian approach, we demonstrate that these moderate blooms (i) originate at specific sites where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current interacts with seamounts, and (ii) coincide with foraging areas of five megafauna species. These findings underline the ecological importance of the open ocean subantarctic waters and advocate for a connected vision of future conservation actions along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
Global threats to ocean biodiversity have driven international targets calling for a worldwide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). In line with these targets, the Commission on the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has been working towards adopting MPAs in the Southern Ocean. CCAMLR is considered a leader in science-based management and has been guiding the way on international MPAs. The west Antarctic Peninsula, threatened by climate change and industrial fishing, has been a priority area for MPA planning in CCAMLR. Since 2011, Chile and Argentina have worked to develop an Antarctic Peninsula MPA proposal which they submitted to CCAMLR in 2018. We use the Antarctic Peninsula MPA proposal process as a case study for understanding the science-policy interface in this international conservation regime. Specifically, we use existing frameworks for co-production of actionable science to examine the Antarctic Peninsula MPA process. We show that the Antarctic Peninsula MPA Proponents engaged in a highly collaborative, transparent, and science-based process which exemplified best practices for actionable science and co-production. Despite following best practices for actionable science, the MPA proposal has not yet been adopted, largely due to political barriers. We elaborate on the importance of co-production of actionable science and its effectiveness as well as to limitations in the Southern Ocean and beyond. Finally, we highlight that science-policy best practices may not be sufficient to drive consensus and the ultimate need for political will in the decision-making underpinning MPA designation in the Southern Ocean.
In the present study, we surveyed the distribution and diversity of fungal assemblages associated with 10 species of marine animals from Antarctica. The collections yielded 83 taxa from 27 distinct genera, which were identified using molecular biology methods. The most abundant taxa were Cladosporium sp. 1, Debaryomyces hansenii, Glaciozyma martinii, Metschnikowia australis, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, Thelebolus cf. globosus, Pseudogymnoascus pannorum, Tolypocladium tundrense, Metschnikowia australis, and different Penicillium species. The diversity, richness, and dominance of fungal assemblages ranged among the host; however, in general, the fungal community, which was composed of endemic and cold-adapted cosmopolitan taxa distributed across the different sites of Antarctic Peninsula, displayed high diversity, richness, and dominance indices. Our results contribute to knowledge about fungal diversity in the marine environment across the Antarctic Peninsula and their phylogenetic relationships with species that occur in other cold, temperate, and tropical regions of the World. Additionally, despite their extreme habitats, marine Antarctic animals shelter cryptic and complex fungal assemblages represented by endemic and cosmopolitan cold-adapted taxa, which may represent interesting models to study different symbiotic associations between fungi and their animal hosts in the extreme conditions of Antarctica.
In the Southern Ocean, the at‐sea distributions of most predators of Antarctic krill are poorly known, primarily because tracking studies have only been undertaken on a restricted set of species, and then only at a limited number of sites. For chinstrap penguins, one of the most abundant krill predators breeding across the Antarctic Peninsula, we show that habitat models developed utilizing the distance from the colony and the bearing to the shelf‐edge, adjusting for the at‐sea density of Pygoscelis penguins from other colonies, can be used to predict, with a high level of confidence, the at‐sea distribution of chinstrap penguins from untracked colonies during the breeding season. Comparison of predicted penguin distributions with outputs from a high‐resolution oceanographic model shows that chinstrap penguins prefer nearshore habitats, over shallow bathymetry, with slow‐flowing waters, but that they sometimes also travel to areas beyond the edge of the continental shelf where the faster‐flowing waters of the Coastal Current or the fronts of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current occur. In the slow‐moving shelf waters, large penguin colonies may lead to krill depletion during incubation and chick‐rearing periods when penguins are acting as central place foragers. The habitats used by chinstrap penguins are also locations preferentially used by the commercial krill fishery, one of the last under‐developed marine capture fisheries anywhere on the planet. As it develops, this fishery has the potential to compete with chinstrap penguins and other natural krill predators. Scaling our habitat models by chinstrap penguin population data demonstrates where overlap with the fishery is likely to be most important. Our results suggest that a better understanding of krill retention and krill depletion in areas used by natural predators and by the krill fishery are needed, and that risk management strategies for the fishery should include assessment of how krill movement can satisfy the demands of both natural predators and the fishery across a range of spatial and temporal scales. Such information will help regional management authorities better understand how plausible ecosystem‐based management frameworks could be developed to ensure sustainable co‐existence of the fishery and competing natural predators.
The pelagic ecosystems of the Western Antarctic Peninsula are dynamic and changing rapidly in the face of sustained warming. There is already evidence that warming may be impacting the food web. Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, is an ice-associated species that is both an important prey item and the target of the only commercial fishery operating in the region. The goal of this study is to develop a dynamic trophic model for the region that includes the impact of the sea-ice regime on krill and krill predators. Such a model may be helpful to fisheries managers as they develop new management strategies in the face of continued sea-ice loss. A mass balanced food-web model (Ecopath) and time dynamic simulations (Ecosim) were created. The Ecopath model includes eight currently monitored species as single species to facilitate its future development into a model that could be used for marine protected area planning in the region. The Ecosim model is calibrated for the years 1996–2012. The successful calibration represents an improvement over existing Ecopath models for the region. Simulations indicate that the role of sea ice is both central and complex. The simulations are only able to recreate observed biomass trends for the monitored species when metrics describing the sea-ice regime are used to force key predator-prey interactions, and to drive the biomasses of Antarctic krill and the fish species Gobionotothen gibberifrons. This model is ready to be used for exploring results from sea-ice scenarios or to be developed into a spatial model that informs discussions regarding the design of marine protected areas in the region.