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Sustainability of southern ocean biological resources

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Sustainability of the Southern Ocean biological resources

The stormy seas that encircle the continent of Antarctica are known as the Southern Ocean. Occupying the only band of latitudes on the planet where ocean waters encircle the globe, the Southern Ocean connects the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian oceans, and is a crucial cog in the Earth's climate system.

The Southern Ocean is one of the largest marine ecosystems in the world. Its cold and often ice-covered waters harbour a web of species from the smallest single-celled plants and animals to the largest mammal on Earth, the blue whale.

Deploying the pelagic trawl  on the James Clark Ross off South GeorgiaAlthough commercially exploited for decades, many of the Southern Ocean's scientific secrets remain undiscovered. Working from its Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross and its research stations on South Georgia - Bird Island and King Edward Point - scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are studying many crucial aspects of the Southern Ocean and the species that depend on it.

One of the key challenges for BAS scientists today is to predict how human activity and climate change will affect the Southern Ocean, and how the creatures that depend on it will respond. Parts of Antarctica are among the most rapidly warming areas of the planet. At BAS, scientists are monitoring the effects of this climate change on the Southern Ocean's ecosystem.

BAS also plays a vital role in conserving fish stocks in the Southern Ocean. Exploitation of the Southern Ocean's biological riches began almost immediately after humans reached the region. The discovery in 1775 of South Georgia by Captain James Cook heralded the start of both sealing and whaling, industries that were to last until the 1960s and drive many species to the edge of extinction.

Fishing continues in the Southern Ocean today, but catches are kept within ecologically sustainable limits by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). By monitoring populations of key species, BAS is able to provide CCAMLR with the scientific information it needs to ensure that fishing can continue at the same time as fish stocks are preserved.