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South Atlantic fish resources at risk from warmer climate

Oct. 1, 2013 at 9:48 AM   |   Comments

PORT STANLEY, Falkland Islands, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- South Atlantic fish populations are at risk from climate change, British researchers who have studied the situation warn.

Krill in the waters around the British Overseas Territories of South George and South Sandwich appear to be the most affected by changes resulting from global warming, British scientific data indicate. A Greenpeace paper issued through the University of Exeter, England, also warned of uncertainties related to damage from the warming of the waters in the southern oceans.

Scientists based their findings on a modeling of the effects of increased sea temperatures in the southern oceans, including the remote regions of South Georgia, one of the British overseas territories claimed by Argentina along with the Falkland Islands.

Argentina and Britain went to war over the territories in 1982. A British task force sent by London repulsed the Argentine invasion, but Buenos Aires hasn't given up its sovereignty claim on the islands.

Britain claimed sovereignty over South Georgia in 1775 and over the South Sandwich Islands in 1908.

South Georgia has no native population but Britain employs a government representative, maintains a museum and a post office, and pays for the British Antarctic Survey operations on Bird Island and King Edward Point, the capital, and surrounding seas.

The krill in the waters around South Georgia may be hit hard by the effects of global warming, South Georgia Newsletter said, citing scientific findings.

Any depletion in krill yields in the South Atlantic will hurt regional economies, as well as numerous Asian fishing fleets operating in the area and further south in the Antarctic region.

Using statistical models, a team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England assessed the likely impact of projected temperature increases on the Weddell Sea, Scotia Sea and Southern Drake Passage, Fish Information and Services said on its website.

This region has already experienced sea surface warming of as much as 1 degree Celsius in the past 50 years. Projections suggest this could rise by another degree by the end of the 21st century.

Krill require deep water with low acidity and a narrow range of temperatures for their eggs to successfully hatch and develop.

The larvae then feed on algae on the underside of sea ice. Krill are especially sensitive to sea temperature in the areas where they grow as adults, such as around South Georgia, the findings show.

The adults require suitable temperatures and enough of the right type of food such as larger phytoplankton to successfully grow and reproduce. Many of these critical environmental features -- temperature, acidity, sea ice and food availability -- could be affected by climate change, scientists warn.

South Georgia is home to fur seals, macaroni penguins and black-browed albatrosses that depend on substantial amounts of krill.

The scientists called for careful management of krill fishing to meet the challenge. About 7 species of the tiny crustaceans in the Antarctic and southern Atlantic are especially vulnerable to commercial harvesting, with uncertain outcome for their stocks in the area.

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