Antarctica’s delicate ecosystem on thin ice
|Professor Craig Franklin|
Antarctica is a fragile ecosystem and the threats it faces are all a consequence of human activity, according to a University of Queensland scientist who has made more than 20 trips to the continent.
Professor Craig Franklin from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences said Antarctica was regarded as the most pristine place on Earth and for many people it took on a sanctuary status.
“However, what is not always realised is that Antarctica and its wildlife are vulnerable to human activities elsewhere,” he said.
“Environmental disturbances that occur elsewhere on the planet can sometimes be felt in the deep south.
“And many Antarctic organisms are so highly specialised that even small changes in environmental conditions can have disastrous consequences, changing forever the structure of the ecosystem.”
Professor Franklin said sealing, whaling and fishing had taken their toll on the ecosystem.
More importantly, the threat of global warming and subsequent climate change was hanging over the continent, indicating more than ever that past human activities were catching up and Antarctica is first in line.
Professor Franklin has a long association with Antarctica including undertaking nine research expeditions to Scott Base studying the thermal and cardiovascular physiology of cryopelagic fish.
He has also been involved in ecotourism, writing the third edition of the Antarctica Cruising Guide with his colleague Dr Peter Carey.
Dr Carey is a zoologist who has made more than 60 trips to Antarctica, working as a lecturer and expedition leader. He is the director of the non-profit conservation organization Subantarctic Foundation for Ecosystems Research (SAFER).
“More than a third of the wildlife described in this book is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species,” Professor Franklin said.
“Even as you cruise along the Southern Ocean on your way to Antarctica, it is worth remembering that the albatrosses and giant petrels following your ship are suffering serious population declines.
“For most people, it takes just one day in Antarctica to realise what we will lose if we don’t act to protect this magnificent environment against exploitation and habitat destruction.”
Professor Franklin said this common epiphany was important: the more people who became aware, the greater the chance of protecting what was left.
Antarctica is a popular travel destination. Last year almost 40,000 tourists travelled to Antarctica by cruise ship — many were Australians and New Zealanders.
The Antarctica Cruising Guide includes colour photographs, maps and information about wildlife, places, iceforms, visitor sites, and conservation on the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Ross Sea. It is available from AWA Press (NZ) or on Amazon.
Media: Professor Craig Franklin, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61 7 3365 2355