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News Story - New pictures reveal rich Antarctic marine life in area of rapid climate change

Date: 17 Dec 2009

Antarctic marine life
New photographs of ice fish, octopus, sea pigs, giant sea spiders, rare rays and beautiful basket stars that live in Antarctica’s continental shelf seas are revealed this week by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

As part of an international study on sea surface to seabed biodiversity a research team from across Europe, USA, Australia and South Africa onboard the BAS Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross sampled a bizarre collection of marine creatures from the Bellingshausen Sea, West Antarctica – one of the fastest warming seas in the world. Research cruise leader Dr. David Barnes of British Antarctic Survey said,

“Few people realise just how rich in biodiversity the Southern Ocean is – even a single trawl can reveal a fascinating array of weird and wonderful creatures as would be seen on a coral reef. These animals are potentially very good indicators of environmental change as many occur in the shallows, which are changing fast, but also in deeper water which will warm much less quickly. We can now begin to get a better understanding of how the ecosystem will adapt to change. Our research on species living in the waters surrounding the BAS Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula shows that some species are incredibly sensitive to temperature changes. Our new studies on the diverse range of marine creatures living in the deep waters of the Bellingshausen Sea will help us build a more complete picture of Antarctica’s marine biodiversity and give us an important baseline against which we can compare future impact on marine life.”

BAS biologist Dr. Sophie Fielding studies krill — a small crustacean that is the main food for penguins, seals and whales. During the research cruise she found remarkable variations in species living within a relatively small area. She said, “Changes at the Earth’s surface directly affect the surrounding ocean and the marine animals living there. For example accelerating glacier melt, collapse of ice shelves and shrinking winter sea-ice all seem to be impacting sea life. We want to understand that impact and what the implications for the food chain may be.”

Dr. Stefanie Kaiser is a German specialist on small seabed animals. She said, “Although many of these animals are tiny, their behaviour helps us paint a much bigger picture in terms of how marine life may react to changes to the environment.”

Ends

Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office:

Heather Martin, Tel +44 (0) 1223 221414; mobile: 07740 822229 email: hert@bas.ac.uk
Linda Capper, Tel: +44 (0)1223 221448; mobile: 07714 233744 email: lmca@bas.ac.uk

Notes for editors:

Scientists used a diverse array of equipment to collect samples from the coast to the open ocean, which range in size from microscopic to giant.

BAS photographer Peter Bucktrout took stunning images of an astonishingly rich and unusual variety of life from on and above the deep continental shelf.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a component of the Natural Environment Research Council, delivers world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that underpins a productive economy and contributes to a sustainable world. Its numerous national and international collaborations, leadership role in Antarctic affairs and excellent infrastructure help ensure that the UK maintains a world leading position. BAS has over 450 staff and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica.

Stunning broadcast-quality footage and stills of aircraft in Antarctica, as well as location maps are available from the BAS Press Office as above.