New study to help monitor human impact on the health of marine life of the Southern Ocean

A marine life study on the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands will assess how climate change and overfishing threaten the Southern Ocean’s ecosystems.

Professor Chris Fogwill, Head of School for Geography, Geology and the Environment, and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, contributed to the first detailed study of marine life on these remote islands which was led by the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre in Australia.

The study, published in Polar Biology, saw the researchers undertake the first extensive survey of the nearshore marine life of three sub-Antarctic islands in New Zealand. The data will help assess the impact that stressors like climate change and the fisheries protection levels might have on marine ecosystems and the creatures that live there.

Professor Fogwill said: “Marine protected areas were recently established in these islands by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries, and data from here serves as a valuable snapshot with which future observations can be compared. This is crucial in a warming world, where changes in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere have major impacts for biodiversity.

“Information on species diversity and abundance at these islands will assist with monitoring the degree to which these restrictions are effective, including early detection of species migrating to the Antarctic continent, and will help better understand the natural ecosystems associated with the islands.

“Studies such as this are crucial to monitoring the health of these extremely remote islands, which represent crucial thermometers of human impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity, data crucial to addressing the Institute for Sustainable Futures Grand Challenge of ‘Protecting air, land, water and ecosystems.’