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Case Study: An Analysis of Management Strategies for Declining Larsen C Ice Rift
SUST 3201- Marine Conservation Ecology
Professor Lacey
Heather Coulson
March 21st, 2017
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An Analysis of Management Strategies for Declining Larsen C Ice Shelf

Introduction:
Environmental organizations pride themselves on maintaining, sustaining, and preserving
the natural environment and all its inhabitants. Ensuring this natural order demands organizations
to direct conservation efforts towards upholding natural habitats and biodiversity, as well as
interpret how the environment will be affected in the future. One of the biggest threats facing this
order is climate change and the cascade of changing variables. The Larsen C ice rift in Antarctica
is an example of a declining sea ice habitat that threatens a variety of organisms that are vital to
the success of the ecosystem. Preserving these habitats are dependent upon the implementation
of formal scientific and management strategies and requirements geared to combat climate
change. The Global Climate Observing System demonstrates an excellent framework for
observing climate change through their essential climate variables (ECV). This concept serves as
a strong long-term foundation for monitoring current changes and mitigating future ones for
effective conservation and fishery management.
Background
The melting and loss of sea ice has proven to be highly problematic in terms of
conservation and fishery management. Not only is this occurring in an isolated area where access
is limited but also because data and overall knowledge is limited regarding these under ice
ecosystems. What little areas have been explored, many demonstrated a rich, diverse layer of
benthic organisms supported by highly productive primary producers. In order to establish
effective conservation measures, its imperative to understand how the decreasing ice will
influence these populations through declining habitats, ice collapses, and changes in both
chemical and biological factors.
Some of these changes have already been witnessed in the collapse of the Larsen A and
Larsen B ice shelves back in 1995 and 2002. Both shelves were located just north of the Larsen
C rift on the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Prior to their collapse, both under-ice
ecosystems demonstrated a highly diverse community with high taxa richness in both macro and
mega benthic communities. As the ice shelves continued to warm and recede, many of these
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communities experienced changes in food source availability, resulting in the rapid decline in the
richness of species for populations and communities (Gutt et al., 2010). It was assumed that
other factors such as warming water temperatures and salinity levels also played a role. After the
collapse, evidence from both sites demonstrated catastrophic disturbances along the seafloor
from iceberg scouring up to 250m of depth (Gutt et al., 2010). In areas that were affected,
pioneer and opportunistic species have started to colonize. For both cases, the changing
environmental variables have resulted in shifts of species distributions and habitat boundaries
when compared to sites that are undisturbed. Many of these changes are expected to occur or
continue to occur as the 56,500 km Larsen C ice shelf continues to recede at a growing rate of
0.20m/yr (Kusahara and Hasumi, 2013). With the total loss of ice growing each day, impacts on
ice dependent species will result in a domino effect on species interactions and disrupt and/or
rearrange where these organisms fall in regional food webs.
Fragmented habitats and changing species distributions are a major concern for scientists.
Especially for those that dependent upon the ice for nursing grounds and for development in
early life stages for larvae and juveniles. Many of the species that are found under these ice
sheets are vital in the success and stability of these Antarctic ecosystems. Understanding the
sensitivity of these organisms under changing environmental conditions will enable researchers
to maximize the effectiveness of current conservation efforts. With enough data, they will also be
able to forecast how organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems will respond under an
array of growing environmental stressors.
Although research in the Antarctic region is scarce, some did investigate and shed some
light on how primary consumers, such as the Antarctic krill, will respond under changing
conditions. It was concluded that these populations are crippled under warming ocean
temperatures and shrinking habitats. Although these numbers vary with seasons and atmospheric
temperatures, the overall recruitment for this organism has been experiencing a rapid decline. In
this case, it has been found that juveniles and larvae growth and development are highly
dependent upon the under-ice habitats for food sources and to avoid predation. Recruitment
survival rates is not the only factor that is going to shift under these conditions. A 2013 study
suggests that female krill will most likely experience lower fecundity rates due to the impacts of
climate change (Hill et al., 2013). The growing extent of these shifts in environmental variables
and increasing fishing pressures in the area, threaten the stock collapse of this species. Not only
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is the population itself being threatened, but it could potentially result in the demise of many
marine mammal and bird populations that rely on krill as one of their main food sources.
Krill is not the only ice dependent fish species that is being impacted. The Antarctic
silverfish is another key stone species being threatened. With similar early life history
characteristics as the krill, this species is also experiencing a population decline. A recent study
looked at this species in both historical and temporary regimes and found significant changes in
age of maturation, migration distance, and recruitment levels (La Mesa et al., 2015). It was
suggested that increased habitat fragmentation, isolation, and habitat quality were responsible for
these changes and overall decline in the stock. This is another example of a species that plays a
major role in the biological diversity of the organisms found in the area. For both of these
species, they provide a major food source for many organisms including various species of
pinnipeds, cetaceans, fish, and birds.
Some of these organisms are not just biologically important, theyre economically
important. The krill for example contributed to roughly 312,000 tons of fish that has been caught
in the 2013-2014 fishing season (Cavanagh et al., 2016). During this season, total catch was
divided between 5 nations and 12 vessels where 90% of the krill caught was from the Antarctic
Peninsula region (Cavanagh et al., 2016). Even though the total catch represents a fraction of the
total population, the intensity of the catch is directed in an area where climate change is having a
huge impact. Since this species and many others caught in Antarctic waters bring a lot of
economic value to various countries, its crucial to acknowledge both climate change and fishing
stressors under fishery management efforts.
Stakeholders are being affected directly by the influences of climate change. The
negative impacts of increasing habitat loss and warming ocean temperatures in the Antarctic
Peninsula region are becoming harder to overlook. The decline of ice dependent species is
already being seen through lower recruitment levels where habitat quality and food availability
are fluctuating under changing conditions. The forced evolutionary effect of climate change is
evident in both of the species mentioned above. To ensure the effectiveness of marine protected
areas and fishery management and conservation efforts, these changing environmental cues, as a
consequence of climate change, needs to be addressed. Starting with the establishment of a
climate change framework and research approach.
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Over the last 30 years the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living
Resources (CCAMLR) has implemented several programs used to protect and monitor threats
and impacts to marine resources. Including the implementation of marine protected areas (MPA),
and the establishment of the ecosystem monitoring program (EMP). Each of these addresses how
biodiversity and habitats may be threatened under various approaches and objectives. Under each
objective, several management rules and regulations have been enacted to neutralize those
threats, meet established goals, and conserve the targeted species and habitats.
MPAs are established using the 9 domains of the CAMLR Convention Area which, are
bounded by waters that surround Antarctica; a surface area totaling 35,716,100 km. (Tech.
Description, para. 2). The general framework for establishing these MPAs (Conservation
Measure 91-04) were to maintain the natural habitat, processes, and biodiversity. As well as
protect them from human disturbances and activities while using these sites as references for
research in unprotected areas. They did acknowledge that these areas should also be
implemented to retain resiliency for the necessary adaptations that are needed under climate
change. However, they do not have a formal framework or guidelines for monitoring the areas
resiliency under these changes.
The establishment of the EMP in 1989 is another tool used in maintaining the natural
environment within the CAMLR Convention area. This program has two goals that assess the
areas fishery vulnerability:
1. detect and record significant changes in critical components of the marine
ecosystem within the Convention Area, to serve as a basis for the conservation of
Antarctic marine living resources
2. distinguish between changes due to harvesting of commercial species and changes
due to environmental variability, both physical and biological.
(CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program Standard Methods, para. 1)
Like the framework for establishing MPAs, CCAMLR acknowledges that, although, changes
will occur, significant changes must be monitored to ensure the stability of the region studied.
However, they fail to establish what procedures need to be followed in terms of research and
what variables need to be recorded. This is demonstrated in Conservation Measure 24-04, where
newly exposed marine areas following the retreat or collapse of an ice-shelf in areas 48.1, 48.5,
or 88.3 are studied.
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Solution
CCAMLR has implemented various tools geared to establish a series of measures to
preserve and maintain habitats, key species, trophic levels, and processes. What has not been
addressed is what variables influence the distributions of these organisms and the quality of their
habitats. A recent 2014 article, outlines an array of essential variables that are influenced under
changing climates. The concept was created and established by the Global Climate Observation
System. In the article, they define essential variables as a physical, chemical, or biological
variable or a group of linked variables that critically contributes characterization of the earths
climate (Bojinski et al., 2014). Some of these variables include wind, rain, currents, and light;
among many more. Acknowledging these variables and adopting procedures aimed to
documenting, researching, and predicting climate change, could potentially improve CCAMLR
conservation effectiveness. A 2011 article used cloud and solar characteristics as essential
climate variables in a 23-yearlong study that looked at the cloud albedo effects on solar
irradiance (Mueller et al., 2011). Through the data, they could develop an accurate mean
geographical trend demonstrating which areas of Europe were experiencing net cooling or
heating. This is one example as to how monitoring of ECVs can be used to determine what areas
are being affected and how fast they are experiencing changes. Through proper climate
monitoring and efficiently directing efforts towards area with minimal impacts, the long-term
effectiveness of conservation goals could substantially improve.
Ultimately, the goal behind these variables is to provide enough data to properly
understand and predict climate change. The guides provided by ECVs have been adopted by
many organizations including the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change.
These guides have provided them with a solution for science-based climate monitoring as well as
effective science research practices and policy making.
Conclusion
Providing effective conservation measures have and will continue to be challenged under
a changing climate. To best address this issue, a sufficient amount of planning, monitoring, and
management needs to be in place to provide the data needed to comprehend what is occurring
and what can be expected to occur in the future. The adoption of the ECV guidelines and
management provided by Global Climate Observation System has proven to be an effective
framework in terms of climate change monitoring.
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