Ships from 1,581 ports can sail to Antarctica, bringing unwanted guests

Tourist boats could potentially bring invasive species to the Antarctic region.
Enlarge / Tourist boats could potentially bring invasive species to the Antarctic region.

Today, Antarctica and the waters around it are surprisingly free from invasive species. According to new research, however, that situation may change in the not-so-distant future, thanks to a shocking level of connectivity with ports around the world. Ships can accidentally carry a wide array of marine life, which in turn can colonize new places (like the world’s polar south), displace native life, and generally wreak havoc on an ecosystem. New research has traced the paths of the various research vessels, tourist vessels and fishing boats that ply the icy waters of Antarctica.

According to Arlie McCarthy, a researcher in the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University and the British Antarctic Survey, these boats all carry a risk of unwanted visitors. And visitors may be more likely to relocate than we once thought.

“We know from other cold regions of the world, including the Arctic, that the things that grow on the hulls of ships are absolutely transported from place to place, and this is one of the main sources of damage. ‘marine introductions to the world,’ said McCarthy. Ars. “We also know that ships entering Antarctica have things growing on them. What we didn’t know until now were good details about where these ships were going. “


McCarthy’s research suggests that there are 1,581 ports in the world with connections to Antarctica. These are the ports from which at least one vessel has traveled to the region, defined as being south of -60 degrees latitude, as defined by the Antarctic Treaty. To determine this, she and her team looked at the shipping data from Lloyd’s list intelligence, an old and reliable source of marine data, stopover data and raw satellite data. This enabled it to monitor the activity of the vessels between 2014 and 2018.

“They are somehow connected to Antarctica,” said McCarthy, referring to the ports. This means that a myriad of species such as crabs, barnacles and algae from a large number of places could be found in the area. As global shipping increases and researchers and tourists continue to move to these waters, the chances of invasive species taking hold also increase. The movement of some species from the North Pole to the South Pole, potentially on board tourist or research vessels, is also a cause for concern. Species from the Arctic would likely be cold-adapted and might thrive better in cold Antarctica than species imported from somewhere south of the equator.

Antarctic waters are mostly free from invasive marine species – there are some invasive species grasses and insects– and the ocean is more isolated than many other oceans. Much of this is due to the neighboring Southern Ocean, whose currents revolve around Antarctica. They are particularly resistant and form a kind of barrier. “Anything that comes from ocean currents in the oceans farther north, they can be diverted from Antarctica rather than actually crossing into the Southern Ocean …”[They] shutting down most things that get into water currents, ”McCarthy said, adding that seals and whales are able to cross those currents, although mussels, barnacles and algae are often blocked.


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