Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the region. Some parts of Antarctica are experiencing significant ice retreat, including the collapse of ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula, while other areas are increasing. If our climate continues to warm and acidify the Southern ocean, scientists predict that krill populations could be devastated, undermining the entire food chain.
Increased fishing pressure and illegal fishing
As global fisheries become depleted, there is growing interest to expand fishing throughout the region. In particular, krill fishing needs to be closely monitored and controlled to ensure whales, penguins and other wildlife are protected.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing also threatens fish stocks in some areas of the Southern Ocean and thereby the seabirds and marine mammals that depend upon them. The harmful fishing methods used by IUU fishing vessels also cause the direct deaths of countless seabirds.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been measured around Antarctica and detected in wildlife. Microplastics are emerging as a threat in the region. Increasing quantities of plastic are washing up on the Antarctic coastline and sub-Antarctic islands.
Many Antarctic species have evolved in isolation from the rest of the world. Consequently, they have developed no means of defending themselves from the invasive species carried aboard ships. WWF catalysed and helped fund the removal of rabbits from Macquarie Island and is now helping to remove mice from the Antipodes Islands.