photos by john weller of the ross sea and its antarctic ecosystem. as weller writes,”the ross sea is special. many scientists believe it may be the most healthy open ocean ecosystem left on earth. …the ross sea is the last ocean.”
according to the national science foundation, little if any of the ocean remains unaffected by fisheries, agricultural runoff, sewage, aquaculture and industry. we have pushed many ocean ecosystems to the brink of collapse worldwide, but the ross sea, protected by its 500 mile wide and 40 metre tall shield of ice (seventh photo), has remained largely insulated from this.
that said, climate change is altering the balance of life in the ross sea. many colonies of emperor penguins (first photo), including the cast of “the march of penguins,” are expected to die out, unable to find suitable breeding sites as the ice disappears.
adélie penguins (fifth photo) are expected to struggle with loss of winter habitat, increased competition from more temperate penguin species, and a higher probability of summer snowstorms, which can kill a whole generation of a colony’s chicks.
there has been also been a dramatic reduction in ecotype c orcas (seventh photo), who come to these waters to feed on an ever diminishing supply of toothfish. the rise in toothfish fisheries has meant that the population of adélie penguins, who compete with toothfish for silverfish, is growing so large as to affect other species who also rely on silverfish, like weddell seals (second and eighth photos) and antarctic minke whales (ninth photo).
more than 500 scientists have now pooled their voices to plead with CCAMLR (the convention on the conservation of antarctic marine living resources), to stop the toothfish fishery.
antarctica holds 90% of the world’s ice, much of it ancient, and a warming planet means that over the next century, worldwide sea levels could rise by 1.5 meters. one can approximate the age of the ice by its colour (tenth photo) - the older a layer of ice gets, the denser it becomes, meaning the more wavelengths of light it absorbs, so the oldest, densest layers glow as pure blue.
"the ross sea story is not just that of the incredible creatures that live at the edge of the world. it is our story, the story of our struggle to become sustainable," john writes. "we need to admit what is known: we have dangerously over exploited the oceans. we need to stop and protect the places we have. we need to start with the ross sea."