Invasive species threatening Antarctica's pristineness


Species from around the world that are "hitching a lift" on ships threaten Antarctica's pristine marine ecosystem, according to new research.

The conclusion is from a study tracking research, fishing and tourist vessels that routinely visit the protected, otherwise isolated region.

The study revealed that ships – usually fishing or tourist vessels – from 1,500 ports around the globe visit Antarctica. "These ships travel all around the world," explained lead researcher Arlie McCarthy from the University of Cambridge.

Invasive species are threatening Antarctica (Colin Drake).

"It means that almost anywhere could be a potential source for invasive species." Those non-native species, she explained, "can completely change an ecosystem". "They can create entirely new habitats that would make it harder for those amazing Antarctic animals to find their own place to live.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points to the need for more stringent measures to ensure that ships do not bring species that could disrupt Antarctica's fragile habitats.

The research team, from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge, used satellite data and international shipping databases to work out the weight of Antarctic traffic - and the origin of those ships.

"What was really surprising was that they don't just have one home port that they go back and forth to," said Ms McCarthy. Instead, the global movement of vessels links otherwise isolated parts of Antarctica to more than 1,500 ports all around the world.



McCarthy AH , Peck LS &  Aldridge DC. 2022. Ship traffic connects Antarctica’s fragile coasts to worldwide ecosystemsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2110303118