By Ruth Slavid
This photograph shows salps on a beach in the Antarctic. They are officially described as planktonic tunicate. While they are both interesting and attractive, their presence in the Southern Ocean can be a sign that all is not well.
Populations of salps are increasing while that of krill is falling. And krill is the mainstay of all animal life in the Antarctic. Directly or indirectly, birds, seals and whales all depend on these small shrimp-like creatures. Have you ever wondered why so many penguins have pink-stained chests? That’s krill. Salps, in contrast, have little nutritional value.
Krill is still abundant (there is a greater weight of krill than people in the world), but on the decline. The reasons include warming seas and the indiscriminate harvesting by factory ships. Krill is widely used in fish farming, for instance to ensure that salmon are pink, and also in human nutrition or as a source of protein or of omega-3 oils. Travel to the Antarctic and you will begin to realise just how worrying this is.
The salps pictured here are on the beach at Whalers’ Bay, Deception Island. The bay is within the island, created as the caldera of a volcano that is still active. Hence the water is warmed ‘naturally’ and the salps love it. Which is perhaps a valuable reminder that occasionally local climatic changes
are not due to human activity, and that there are still forces shaping the landscape that are not the responsibility of landscape professionals.