A new study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change finds that ocean acidification could cause the Southern Ocean Antarctic krill population to crash by 2300, meaning dire consequences for whales, seals, penguins, and the entire ecosystem it supports. In addition to devastating ecosystem effects, a collapse in krill populations could have serious economic implications, as the species represents the region’s largest fishery resource.
In this gorgeous new Oceana video Alexandra Cousteau delves into Monterey Bay to illuminate the diversity of life at the bottom of the ocean, a crucial habitat that is under the constant threat of obliteration from bottom trawling. Using an ROV the camera captures an otherworldly scene, as scallops flutter by and curlicued basket stars unfurl. Armies of shrimp and brittle stars scamper by, fed by the organic matter from above that drifts down the water column like snowfall, sustaining a remarkably rich community. In shallower waters, coral gardens that take hundreds of years to blossom shelter rockfish and ingeniously disguised crabs, and serve as a nursery for dozens of species of fish. Here octopuses go camouflage against the rocky shale, out of sight of the hungry sperm whales and sea lions from above. Anemone-covered spires upwell nutrient rich waters that feed shoals of krill, which in turn feed blue whales. It is an intricately connected ecosystem and it can be destroyed in an instant by bottom trawling. That’s why Oceana has pushed for an end to bottom trawling in ecologically sensitive areas. And that work has paid off in concrete victories: in 2006 NOAA protected 140,000 square miles of Pacific seafloor from the destructive practice, but more needs to be done. For the most part this world goes unseen by human eyes and it’s why Oceana is working laboriously to document these precious areas before they disappear.
If you are one of the 3,600 ocean-loving Californians who spoke up for squid, we want to thank you!
You urged the state’s wildlife managers to maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem by not re-opening the market squid fishery after it was closed early when the maximum catch had been fished (118,000 tons or 236 million pounds).
I’m happy to report that the Fish and Game Commission listened, saying it will keep the fishery closed until next season, which opens in April. They also welcomed your request for better management of these critical fish species by adopting a policy that will guide how they manage these small fish and invertebrates into the future.
Forage species like squid, herring, and krill are the base of the ocean food pyramid, feeding everything from the charismatic humpback whale to the commercially important salmon fishery.
There is currently no state policy guiding management of forage species -- this would be the first of its kind.
This is a very exciting step forward and will ensure that fisheries managers start asking the right questions when determining how many forage fish to take out of the ocean. For example: How much squid do Risso’s dolphins need to be healthy? How much krill does the endangered blue whale eat? What’s the current population of dogfish sharks and how much herring do they need?
Also, let’s not forget that forage species are not only critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem, but to California’s economy as they bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually through coastal sectors like recreational and commercial fishing, tourism, and hospitality industries.
Without enough forage species recreational fishers will have to go elsewhere to find their sport fish, restaurants will have a more difficult time getting enough sustainably fresh and wild seafood for their menus, and whale-watching boats will have less diverse wildlife to show people who come all the way to California’s beautiful coast to see whales, seals, dolphins, and seabirds.
Stay tuned as we move toward better fishery management, and thank you again for weighing in!
Ashley Blacow is Oceana's Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: albatross and coral gardens.
Oregon Leg, Day 3
Last night we anchored the R/V Miss Linda just north of Bandon, Oregon and two miles offshore. We woke to calm seas and high anticipation for another day of work with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), surveying seafloor habitats.
Steaming west about six miles offshore we crossed paths with a rapidly moving pod of dolphins and we were graced with the company of black-footed albatross and sooty shearwaters.
As the ROV descended on the first dive, we passed through a swarm of krill just before reaching the seafloor 300 feet down. At the bottom we saw a garden of colorful corals, sponges and crinoids that looked like sword ferns in an old growth forest.
Humpback whales flock to the California coast, searching for herring, krill, and other small tasty fish. But these small fish, also known as forage fish, are dwindling in numbers due to fishing pressure, pollution, and demand for feed in the agriculture and aquaculture industries, among other threats.
There is currently legislation pending in the California State Assembly that highlights the importance of prey fish and calls for a scientific approach to fishing for them. Right now there is no consistent state policy governing management of forage species, but with your help we can change that.
Today is the last day to speak up for these important creatures - Tell the California State Assembly to support better management of forage species.
Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless is counted among the notable ocean conservationists -- including Carl Safina, Sylvia Earle and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. -- in SEA VOICES, a coffee table book by Duffy Healey and Elizabeth Laul Healey. The couple has been involved in saving the oceans for decades, and they recently posted an excerpt of the book’s interview with Andy on their website.
Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A about krill, a topic near and dear to Andy’s heart.
Q. Krill is very important to the overall food chain of the ocean. Can you briefly explain what krill is, why it’s so important, and what Oceana and others are doing to help protect krill?
A. Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans. There are 85 species of krill, and they are present in all of the world’s oceans, and are particularly abundant in the Southern Ocean. Krill have light emitting organs called ‘photophores’ that make them glow in the dark; swarms of krill at night or in the dark ocean depths make impressive swirling light displays. The largest krill, the Antarctic krill, is thought to live up to 11 years old. Ocean wildlife eats between 150 and 300 million metric tons of krill each year.
Today’s FOTD is about the humpback whale. These giants grow up to 50 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. They are highly migratory and spend their summers feeding in the nutrient-rich polar waters and travel to tropical waters to breed.
There is little food for humpbacks in the warm waters of the tropics so they essentially live off their fat reserves, which they build up during their summers in the polar waters.
Marine wildlife is estimated to consume between 150 and 300 million metric tons of krill each year. So it’s pretty safe to say that it’s a good thing a ban on fishing for krill in US Pacific waters became federal regulation on Monday. The move ends a years-long advocacy campaign led by Oceana and supported by scientists, conservationists, and fishermen. The federal regulations mirror those of state limits out to three miles offshore in Washington, Oregon and California. Krill, a catch-all term for 85 species of small shrimp-like creatures, forms the foundation of many marine food webs. Animals such as salmon, whales, and sea lions all heavily rely on krill for survival. The ban also shows a new way of managing fisheries that prioritizes the health of marine ecosystems, and not just one species. Oceana is a strong supporter of ecosystem-based management. Congrats to all who were involved in making this happen!
Looking back at February, I have had one thing on my mind - whales. When it comes to these creatures, it has been a time of mixed emotions on the Pacific coast of North America.