Save the krill!

The conservation movement is full of organizations whose stated goal is to protect  specific organisms (i.e. “save the whales” or “save the sea turtles”) or to protect certain ecosystems (i.e. “save the rain forest” or “save the coral reef”). While these groups do admirable work, I can’t help put notice that they primarily focus on charismatic, likable organisms and ecosystems that are considered beautiful. The reason for this is simple- it’s easier to get the public to support conserving these things.  Any conservation is a good thing, but when we focus exclusively on what we like instead of what’s important to the environment, it can lead to ecological disaster. That’s why I was so excited to learn of the existence of the “save the krill” movement.

What’s a krill, you ask? According to the Pew Antarctic Krill Conservation Project:

“Encompassing more than 80 species of open-ocean creatures scientifically classified as Euphausiids, Antarctic krill are about 2 ½ inches long (6 centimeters) and weigh 0.07 ounces or roughly two grams.”

Image from SUNY Stonybrook's Marine Science Research Center

Krill aren’t terribly charismatic, and they certainly aren’t as beautiful as many coral reef fish (although certain SFS writers believe that Hagfish are beautiful, so I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Why should we care about them?

Well, for one thing, there’s a lot of them.

“Krill are one of the world’s most abundant multi-celled animals…collectively thought to be one of the largest aggregations of marine life on the planet. Krill spend most of their 5-7 year life span in huge schools or “swarms,” living in concentrations so dense and vast that they cover kilometers in every direction with as many as 30,000 krill per cubic meter. Estimates of the total weight of Antarctic krill range from 50 to 500 million metric tonnes.”

This high biomass makes them ecologically very important. They are the main source of food for many species of penguins, whales, albatrosses, fish, and seals. The same biomass has attracted another predator- human fishermen (it is primarily sold as fish feed for the aquaculture industry).

Fishing for krill has drastically increased in the last decade. According to Antarctic Krill Conservation Project director Gerald Leape, ““Krill catches in the Southern Ocean have doubled in the last three years, already surpassing 200,000 tons in this year alone, and there’s no sign of it slowing down.”

The AKCP is calling for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (which includes delegates from 25 nations) to make serious management changes to the krill fishery. These changes include increasing the frequency of stock assessments (the last was more than ten years ago) and requiring scientific observers on all krill fishing vessels.

They have created a photo petition website to draw attention to the plight of krill, which, as of this posting, has pictures from more than 10,000 people. Please learn more about this important conservation issue by visiting the AKCP website.


October 22, 2010 • 10:30 am