One Man’s Experience Of The Changing Antarctic

By Roy L Hales

Mike Moore spends six weeks in the Antarctic most winters. Since 2001, he has worked as  a zodiac driver, naturalist and lecturer for 14 seasons. Up until five years ago, he found it really hard to tell how the climate was changing. Since then, the public has been barred from visiting some glaciers because of crevices. In other areas, bare rock stands where there was once ice. The once clear deep Antarctic waters have become murky. New species have moved into the area and old ones are disappearing. In this morning’s program, Moore describes one man’s experience of the changing Antarctic

The Changing Antarctic

Areas discussed – Courtesy Roy L Hales

“I’ve got a very short snapshot to look at. Fifteen years – that is nothing in geological time. Six weeks a year, that is a very tiny slice of the year. But what I can say is things are changing … I read the books and I read the evidence now and I know that things are changing and the climate is warming, he said.

Water Thick With Salp

Though he has read about salp, prior to 2017 Moore never saw them in the Antarctic.

Salp – courtesy Mike Moore

“Last year the water was thick with salp … they filter the algae and grow wherever algal blooms have taken off. The interesting thing about salps is that they are our closest relative in the invertebrate world. They actually aren’t an invertebrate, they are a vertebrate. … [Salps] have a centralized nervous system. … As they grow older they become this gelatinous creature that looks like little jellyfish,” explained Moore.

“The thing is that these salps reproduce really quickly … They are one of the fastest growing organisms in the ocean, when there is enough food for them. [Salps] reproduce asexually. They have this budding stage, where they can form chains of hundreds of individuals – and that is what we were seeing. We were seeing chains that were sometimes three or four metres long, of hundreds of these salps all hooked together. It was like salp soup.”

Only like krill, salps consume phytoplankton. Consequently “good salp years mean bad krill years.” This is bad news for everything from leopard seals to penguins to whales, which feed on krill but will normally ignore a gelatinous creature. “There just isn’t the same nutritious value in a salp.”

Penguin Species Changing

The species of penguin is changing. When Moore first arrived they were predominantly Adélie penguin. Now their colonies are being taken over by Gentoo penguins (photo at top of page), which were once more commonly associated with the Falkland Islands.

Moore suggests that would be citizen scientists contact Dr Tom Heart of Penguin Watch (formerly Penguin Lifelines)

Algae in the Antarctic – Courtesy Mike Moore

“He has cameras in penguin colonies. They do time lapse photography over the course of the whole season. He can watch: the penguins arrive; what date they arrive; who arrives; where they nest; what percentage of Gentoo, Chinstrap or Adélie penguins are nesting; when they leave; what their success rate was. You know if you see pictures of all sorts of dead chicks, there is something going on.”

There are currently 48,271 volunteers helping Heart count the number of penguins in his photographs.

“You can log onto his website and count penguins. Otherwise it would just be a daunting task for one team to count all that.”

The Value of Antarctic Ecotours

Moore has mixed views about the value of Antarctic ecotours.

“When it comes to working on passenger vessels and brining people down there, one of the things we feel happy about is we are increasing awareness of this incredibly fragile and changing landscape and ecosystem”

“ … The Antarctic continent is the only place in the world that does not have native humans. So [animals] have had very little contact with humans and they have not learned that fear. Where else in the world can you just sit on a beach and have the wild life walk up to you to have a look at you? So when people see it for the first time, they are completely blown away and dumbfounded by the beauty of it.”

“The thing is we are all flying, flying thousands of miles to Ushuaia [in Southern Argentina]…sometimes right into the Antarctic, in the Shetland Islands. We have passenger flights going into the King George Islands so that people do not have to cross the Drake passage [in ships]. … That C02 … has to have some effect. So I think we are all implicit in the problem by going there.”

“ … But by showing people the problem down there and allowing them to become involved through things like Penguin Lifelines, and there is excellent things that we raise charitable funds for [example] the Save the Albatross foundation, which is mitigating the effect of fishing on albatross

What Can We Do?

Moore finds that people are concerned when they discover the extent of the changes.

“One of the most challenging things I can do is talk about our flights down there. Like I said, Quark is a good company. There are doing carbon offsets, but for me that is not enough. Samantha and I self tax ourselves on the carbon we produce for our living. So flying from Campbell River toUshuaia return is nine tons of carbon and we self tax ourselves on that carbon and that goes into our donation pool.”

Disappearing Glaciers – Courtesy Mike Moore

“I bring that conversation to people in the Antarctic. Sometimes I get laughed at and sometimes you strike a resonant cord. That is the only thing that keeps me going back, is trying to raise that awareness.”

“Here we live on the west coast of BC, one of the most variable places in terms of climate, in the world. There has never been a normal winter. Some years you get snow, some years you don’t get snow. It has always been like that, but over time we see a progression of ‘oh, that was the warmest winter in a while.’“

“What can you do to change that? The only thing that we can ask them to do is examine how each of his lives our own life, because we are all having an impact.”

Top photo Credit: Gentoo Penguins – Courtesy Mike Moore

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