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Antarctica: Sea creatures ‘hitchhiking’ on ships could damage continent’s fragile ecosystem, scientists warn | Climate News

Sea creatures around the world could endanger Antarctica’s pristine ecosystems by hitchhiking there on ships, scientists have warned.

Of particular concern are mussels, crabs, barnacles and algae because they can easily cling to the hulls of ships, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey said.

Their study monitored human activities on board ships such as research, fishing, tourism, and supply, and found that despite the region’s isolation, ships from 1,580 ports around the world visit the Antarctic.

Picture:
Chinstrap penguins swim near a glacier on Snow Island, Antarctica

All of the ships potentially expose the protected area to invasive non-native species that threaten the stability of its environment, the scientists said.

Species – including mussels, barnacles, crabs and algae – attach themselves to the hulls of ships, in a process called “biological fouling” and could arrive in Antarctic waters from almost anywhere in the world.

“Biosecurity measures are necessary”

Senior author Arlie McCarthy, researcher in the Department of Zoology and the British Antarctic Survey at the University of Cambridge, said: “The species that grow on a ship’s hull are determined by where it is found.

“We have found that fishing vessels operating in Antarctic waters visit a fairly small network of ports, but tourist and supply vessels travel around the world.

“We were surprised to find that Antarctica is much more globally connected than previously thought.

“Our results show that biosecurity measures need to be implemented at a wider range of locations than they currently are.

Lemaire Channel in Antarctica
Picture:
Lemaire Channel in Antarctica

“There are strict regulations to prevent non-native species from entering Antarctica, but their success depends on having the information needed to inform management decisions.

“We hope our findings will improve the ability to detect invasive species before they become a problem.”

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Cambridge University Professor David Aldridge told The Independent that the region “must be protected from such marine invasions, as native Antarctic species have been isolated for the past 15-30 million years. “.

The study found that of all human activities on board ships, tourism – even though it is regulated in the region – contributes 67% of visits to Antarctica.

Next come research (21%) and fishing (7%).

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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