The animal that holds it all together

by Alistair Allan
by Alistair AllanMarine and Antarctic Campaigner
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As we round the northwest point of Coronation Island, the Aker BioMarine fleet comes into view. Three giant shapes with their outlines contrasted by the glaciers and snow behind them.

The three vessels, the Antarctic Sea, the Antarctic Endurance and the Saga Sea, are responsible for 65per cent of all krill ripped out of the Southern Ocean. It is like coming across the final boss in a video game.

The 134-metre Antarctic Sea rumbles past. The Aker BioMarine ships are different to the other trawlers we have seen. They are far more modern. They have become so efficient at sucking up krill that they don’t even have to pull a net up on deck. Instead, they vacuum pump the krill out of the net with a giant hose. It is frightening how effortless it is. How they have managed to turn killing the foundation of an ecosystem into the equivalent of vacuuming dust from a floor. That’s exactly what the Antarctic Sea is doing now.

Photo: Flavio Gasperini

It’s even more confronting than the rusty, dilapidated trawlers. To see such a modern industrial machine, down here at the end of the world, effortlessly stealing food from the mouths of whales and penguins, is shocking.

All to make products we don’t need.

Krill are incredible creatures. Though tiny, the role they play in Antarctica is gargantuan. It is well known that whales and penguins rely on krill to survive but they are also vital for Antarctic fur seals and crabeater seals. Even the famous leopard seal relies on it for survival during certain parts of the year. A recent study suggested that over 90 per cent of Antarctic seabirds’ food came from krill.

Photo: Kerstin Langenberger

Krill holds the Antarctic ecosystem together. As if that weren’t enough, there is now evidence that they play an outsized role as a carbon sink. Through their faecal pellets and a process called ‘moulting’ where they shed their exoskeleton, krill absorb an incredible amount of carbon dioxide. They send the equivalent carbon emissions of up to 32 million cars a year to the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Photo: Alistair Allan

The Aker BioMarine fleet lies in front of me. To think that they are hoovering millions of these incredible animals aboard, to make things like fish farm feed, pet food and supposed ‘health’ supplements, feels absurd. It is a crime against nature.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean – from the biggest animal on Earth, the Blue whale, right down to krill, these small but amazing creatures – deserve total protection. Not supertrawlers plundering its wild seas.