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Assessing the recovery of an Antarctic predator from historical exploitation

October 16, 2019

The recovery of whale populations from centuries of exploitation will have important management and ecological implications due to greater exposure to anthropogenic activities and increasing prey consumption. Here, a Bayesian population model integrates catch data, estimates of abundance, and information on genetics and biology to assess the recovery of western South Atlantic (WSA) humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Modelling scenarios evaluated the sensitivity of model outputs resulting from the use of different data, different model assumptions and uncertainty in catch allocation and in accounting for whales killed but not landed. A long period of exploitation drove WSA humpback whales to the brink of extinction. They declined from nearly 27 000 (95% PI = 22 800–33 000) individuals in 1830 to only 450 (95% PI = 200–1400) whales in the mid-1950s. Protection led to a strong recovery and the current population is estimated to be at 93% (95% PI = 73–100%) of its pre-exploitation size. The recovery of WSA humpback whales may result in large removals of their primary prey, the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), and has the potential to modify the community structure in their feeding grounds. Continued monitoring is needed to understand how these whales will respond to modern threats and to climate-driven changes to their habitats.

The emperor penguin - Vulnerable to projected rates of warming and sea ice loss

October 8, 2019

We argue the need to improve climate change forecasting for ecology, and importantly, how to relate long-term projections to conservation. As an example, we discuss the need for effective management of one species, the emperor penguin, Aptenodyptes forsteri. This species is unique amongst birds in that its breeding habit is critically dependent upon seasonal fast ice. Here, we review its vulnerability to ongoing and projected climate change, given that sea ice is susceptible to changes in winds and temperatures. We consider published projections of future emperor penguin population status in response to changing environments. Furthermore, we evaluate the current IUCN Red List status for the species, and recommend that its status be changed to Vulnerable, based on different modelling projections of population decrease of ≥50% over the current century, and the specific traits of the species. We conclude that current conservation measures are inadequate to protect the species under future projected scenarios. Only a reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will reduce threats to the emperor penguin from altered wind regimes, rising temperatures and melting sea ice; until such time, other conservation actions are necessary, including increased spatial protection at breeding sites and foraging locations. The designation of large-scale marine spatial protection across its range would benefit the species, particularly in areas that have a high probability of becoming future climate change refugia. We also recommend that the emperor penguin is listed by the Antarctic Treaty as an Antarctic Specially Protected Species, with development of a species Action Plan.

Where Is the North Pole?

October 11, 2016

The north and south polar regions have been rapidly changing, affecting global weather and sea levels and sparking international concern about shipping and resources. While these global impacts occur, physical changes such as warming and less ice directly affect ecosystems and people living in polar regions. President Obama, visiting the northern Alaska town of Kotzebue in summer 2015, noted the impact of climate change on the American Arctic, where several towns may be abandoned due to rising flood risks in the next few decades, if not sooner.

Antarctic Ocean Legacy: Towards Protection of the Weddell Sea Region

July 16, 2014

Ice-bound, wild and remote, the Weddell Sea is a large, deep embayment nestled between the Antarctic Peninsula and Cape Norvegia. Lying south of the Atlantic Ocean, it is one of the most intact ecosystems in the world.At its widest, it is 2,000 km across, with the whole region encompassing 3.4 million km. The Weddell Sea has often been inaccessible to humans, but as research has increased over the past few decades, a picture has emerged of a vibrant marine ecosystem sustained by a combination of currents, seafloor features and ice.This research has revealed incredible biodiversity, particularly on the seafloor, with dozens of new species discovered on recent sampling expeditions. There are many more species yet to be discovered. Several species of whales and dolphins and six species of seals are found in the Weddell Sea, as well as a diversity of fish and seabirds. Even at depths of 6,000 metres, life has been found, underscoring the incredible diversity of life in the region. Nutrient rich currents interact with seafloor features, sea ice and ice shelves in a complex system that results in hotspots of plankton growth on the surface, supporting life from the surface to the ocean depths. The complexity of the Weddell Sea's region's undersea landscape enhances the diversity of life under the waves and ice by creating varied habitats for different undersea animals.The enormous richness of life generated by these interactions supports many seabird and mammal species including emperor penguins, Weddell, crab eater, and elephant seals as well as minke, humpback, blue, and fin whales. These animals come to feed on krill and silverfish, found in the many areas of high phytoplankton production (also known as "primary productivity") throughout the region. Yet climate change is having major impacts on the region with disruption to the icy environment. Changes in sea ice could be devastating for many species whose life cycle depends on pack ice. Protecting the unique, ecologically intact, and diverse deep-water regions of the Weddell Sea in a system of large-scale marine reserves and MPAs would ensure that its rich benthic biodiversity, krill populations, and large predators (including whales) continue to thrive.

Countdown to Consensus for Creating Marine Reserves in Antarctica's Southern Ocean

October 18, 2013

The seas surrounding the frozen continent of Antarctica harbor some of the most pristine marine ecosystems left on our planet, supporting an abundant yet fragile web of life. Whales, penguins, and seals share the waters of the Southern Ocean with thousands of spectacular but little-known creatures, such as bioluminescent worms, brilliant starfish, and ghostlike octopuses. Twenty-four countries and the European Union will soon decide whether to safeguard two vital areas of the Southern Ocean -- the Ross Sea and the East Antarctic -- from increasingly intensive fishing and other industrial activities.

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Management: International Examples of Innovation

January 1, 2010

Fisheries change often carries its own financial rewards. Many reforms and changes which support conservation also result in higher profits and revenue streams for the involved businesses. This makes fisheries a potentially attractive investment arena for many commercial investors, once reform projects are properly structured and agreed upon between conservationists and the involved businesses. As commercial investors and social investors become more involved in the field of fisheries, the scale of the impacts that can be achieved is expected to expand. Foundations in the field are now looking to support this transition from fisheries conservation as a purely philanthropic investment to a blended conservation and business investment by encouraging non-profits, social change leaders and business entrepreneurs to create innovatively structured projects that can both build value for private investors and improve the speed and scale of fisheries conservation impacts. This report aims to support this transition, by providing information about and high-lighting the work of those at the forefront of innovative fisheries finance.

Eco-Economy Indicator: Ice Melting Faster Everywhere

December 23, 2009

From the Arctic sea ice to the Antarctic interior and the mountainous peaks of Peru, Alaska, and Tibet, ice is melting at an alarming rate. The accelerating loss of ice sheets, sea ice, and glaciers is one of the most powerful and striking indicators of a warming climate.

Polar Oceans in Peril and a Planet at Risk

July 6, 2009

The snow-covered lands and icy waters of these polar regions are, for many people, the purest examples of true wilderness left on this planet. While the Arctic has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia, Antarctica has only played host to visiting explorers and scientists. Both polar oceans are, however, home to distinctive wildlife that has adapted to the extreme environmental conditions, such as the Arctic's polar bears and the Antarctic's penguins. Polar waters provide rich feeding grounds that sustain large populations of seabirds and marine mammals, including the majority of the world's great whales.Indicators of our planet's health, the poles provide us with an early warning that we are compromising the Earth's ability to sustain life as we know it. It is already too late to avoid profound negative changes at the poles. But, we can limit further impacts by establishing boundaries that stop the commercial fishing fleets and the oil and gas industries from plundering and polluting these already-damaged ecosystems.The profound physical changes happening at the ends of the Earth are a wake-up call that we ignore at our peril. How we treat the Polar Oceans has major consequences for the planet as a whole. Our generation has a unique opportunity and responsibility to take action to bring us back from the brink of runaway climate change, and to protect some of the most fragile and essential ecosystems on Earth.There is a compelling body of scientific evidence that demonstrates that setting aside large areas of the ocean from industrial activities, such as fishing and oil and gas extraction, provides protection for valuable species and habitats, maintains important ecosystem functions and allows degraded areas to recover. This is even more important for the Polar Oceans, since the Arctic and Antarctic are warming faster than the rest of the globe and so are under increased stress.Creating marine reserves in the Polar Oceans will make them both more resilient to the impacts of climate change and will help prevent further, catastrophic climate change.Greenpeace is calling upon the United Nations and governments around the world to commit to a course of action to save the Arctic and Antarctic.