The Morrison Government is supporting the deployment of new technologies to study Antarctic krill, one of the most abundant animals on the planet and one of the keys to the protection of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
Camera technologies developed by the Australian Antarctic Division will be deployed from the CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator, which departs from Hobart tomorrow on a two month expedition.
Minister Ley said that Australian Antarctic Program scientists will measure krill in ways never attempted before.
“The voyage is critical to the sustainable management of a species, which is a cornerstone of the Antarctic food chain supporting penguins, seals and whales and a host of other species,” Minister Ley said today.
“The camera and other technologies developed to carry out the research are the sort of great Australian innovations that we need to improve our understanding of krill and our accuracy in estimating how many there are, and the ways we can support ocean health.”
Krill form vast swarms that can be hundreds of metres deep and extend over areas of about 100 square kilometres (about ten times the size of Sydney airport).
For the first time, scientists will deploy a novel ‘swarm study system’ – a series of cameras mounted to a floating frame.
The system will be dropped into the middle of a krill swarm, to capture the krill schooling around it in 3D.
This will provide information about how krill orient themselves in a swarm, which will improve how the ship’s echosounders estimate how much krill (their ‘biomass’) there is.
The echosounders send out ‘pings’ of sound to find and measure the biomass of krill within the top 350 metres of water.
Scientists will also look for krill on the sea floor, up to 1500 metres below, by anchoring three deep sea moorings called ‘KOMBIs’ (‘Krill Observational Mooring for Benthic Investigation’).
The KOMBIs have sideways-looking video cameras and lights, to video the sea floor for a few minutes every five hours, over a year.
The results will provide the first insights into how krill use the sea floor habitat when the ocean is blanketed by sea ice in winter, and how important the habitat is to krill across the year.
The research will assist the international body for Southern Ocean conservation – the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – to update the sustainable catch limit for a re-emerging krill fishery in East Antarctica.
“The Australian Government is committed to ensuring CCAMLR has the best available information to inform management measures that protect krill and other species that rely on them, and a sustainable krill fishery,” Minister Ley said.
“Our Antarctic scientists work within CCAMLR to ensure management measures for krill encompass the needs of fisheries and predators, as well as the impacts of climate change.”