Antarctic krill: Powerhouse of the Southern Ocean

Krill under ice
© Alfred-Wegener-Institut /Ulrich Freier

Krill in the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea deliver carbon storage services worth an estimated US$15.2 billion per year, according to a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature. By contrast, the annual worth of the Antarctic krill fishery is 60 times lower at about US$0.25 billion

“Antarctic krill are worth more to nature and people left in the ocean than removed,” said Emily Grilly, WWF’s Antarctic Conservation Manager.

WWF’s report, Antarctic krill: Powerhouse of the Southern Ocean, examines the potential carbon storage capacity of krill in the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea.

Antarctic krill send carbon to the deep through the sinking of their faeces and by moulting their exoskeletons.

The carbon storage of their faecal pellets is valued at US$8.6 billion and the shedding of exoskeletons an additional US$6.6 billion – a total of US$15.2 billion per year.

This is estimated to equal the sinking of 23 megatonnes of carbon annually.

“We know krill are central to the Southern Ocean food web – whales, penguins, seals and other marine species depend on krill for their survival,” Ms Grilly said.

“Now we’re learning about the potential role krill play in our climate. 

“Krill are individually small but collectively mighty. That certainly applies to their ability to store carbon and help maintain stable climatic conditions that are beneficial for humanity,” she said.

The report shows the need to prioritise improved protection of Antarctic krill rather than expanded industrial harvesting.