Global warming and new onboard fishing techniques jeopardizes vital resource, with potentially devastating consequences for the planet
Krill is a general term used to describe about 85 species of tiny open-ocean crustaceans at the heart of the Antarctica ecosystem. The foundational oceanic food source, krill are imperative to marine survival — providing over 96 percent of the caloric needs of seabirds and marine mammals including whales, penguins, seals and other birds.1
Unfortunately this “pink gold” is also the raw material used in fish farming and the krill oil supplement industry. As a result, since the 1970s the krill population has dropped by 80 percent.2
This loss has several potentially calamitous consequences. Krill are a vital and underappreciated contributor to the global ecosystem. Its devastation threatens not only the wildlife that depends on it, but also the planet at large. For example:
- Krill are believed to be important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water to escape predators.
- As a result of this decline in numbers, the western Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than most of the rest of the earth. Winter temperatures have shot up roughly 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 60 years, reducing sea ice cover.3
- Research shows that Antarctic penguin populations, which depend on krill, have collapsed by 50% in studied colonies over the last 30 years.4
Why are krill vanishing?
Global warming has been identified as one cause for a dramatic decline in krill numbers. The ice that is home to the algae and plankton that krill feed on is melting, caused in part to krill harvesting itself.
The other source of krill devastation is the growing krill fishing industry. In order to meet the high krill demand for use in fish meal used in industrial fish farming, and as well as pet, poultry and livestock feed, and for human consumption in the krill oil supplement industry, a new and devastating fishing method known as “suction harvesting” has been introduced. Using his method, huge factory-ships literally vacuum the ocean, sucking up the krill that other marine creatures depend on — threatening not only krill, but also the entire ecosystem that depends on them.
What’s being done to protect krill and the wildlife that depends on it?
In the face of climate change and increasing demand, many scientists and conservationists are recommending measures to protect krill. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) formed in response to concern about growing commercial interest in Antarctic krill and actively oversees the Antarctic krill fishery. The CCAMLR is part of the broader international Antarctic Treaty System that is charged with developing ecosystem-based, precautionary management for the krill fishery.
For its part, in May 2010 Whole Foods Market pulled krill oil supplements from its shelves, citing a decline in predatory sea animals, including whales, penguins and seals, in areas where krill are fished.3
A more ecologically friendly and effective omega-3 for use in dietary supplementation is sourced via fish. Fish oil can be harvested sustainably from fish varieties that are abundant and further up the food chain, leaving the delicate ecosystem undisturbed. When purchasing a fish oil supplement, be sure to check that the manufacturer subjects itself to sustainable fishing practice audits, run by a third party accredited certification body such as Friend of the Sea, whose mission is the conservation of marine habitat.
Purchasing only sustainable seafood and fish oil products is the ecologically friendly (and easy!) way to obtain vital omega-3, with no relevant impact on the seabed and the marine ecosystem that depends on it.
Krill feeds the marine ecosystem. Destroy the bottom, and the top collapses.
- Pew research fact sheet (2014, Oct 14). Protecting Antarctic Krill. Retrieved from: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact- sheets/2014/10/protecting-antarctic-krill
- “Vacuuming Antarctica for Krill: The Corporations Plundering the Earth’s Last Frontier” Retrieved from: SumOfUs, sumeofus.org
- Moran, S. (2012, March 13). Team Tracks a Food Supply at the End of the World. The New York Times, Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/science/tracking-antarctic-krill-as-more-is-harvested-for-omega-3-pills.html?_r=0)
- Trivelpiece et al. (2011, March 11). Variability in krill biomass links harvesting and climate warming to penguin population changes in Antarctica. Retrieved from: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/18/7625.full
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.