A Threat to the Ecosystem Could Be Invasive Species “Hitchhiking” on Ships to Antarctica

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The coldest continent on the planet can’t even give the cold shoulder to an unwanted stowaway as scientists say an invasive species could threaten Antarctica’s ecosystem by potentially “hitchhiking”Its way to the tundra BBC reported.

A study published by the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge. Proceedings of National Academy of SciencesAccording to them, tourists and fishing vessels could be bringing the invasive species into the desolate area.

According to the study, ships from more than 1,580 ports in the world regularly visit Antarctica.

“We found that fishing boats operating in Antarctic waters visit quite a restricted network of ports, but the tourist and supply ships travel across the world,”Arlie McCarthy, University of Cambridge’s lead researcher, stated in a statement.  “It means that almost anywhere could be a potential source for invasive species.”

Those non-native species, she explained, “can completely change an ecosystem,” adding, “they can create entirely new habitats that would make it harder for those amazing Antarctic animals to find their own place to live.”

Foreign ships coming to a remote region, bringing new lifeforms that are not native to Antarctica pose a serious threat, according to the study.

“Antarctica’s Southern Ocean supports a unique biota and represents the only global marine region without any known biological invasions. However, climate change is removing physiological barriers to potential invasive nonnative species and increasing ship activities are raising propagule pressure,” the study said.

The species, which includes mussels, barnacles, crabs and algae, attach themselves to the hulls of oncoming ships, in a process known as “biofouling” and then could arrive in Antarctic waters threatening the ecosystem, Sky News reported.

“We were surprised to find that Antarctica is much more globally connected than was previously thought,”McCarthy added. “Our results show that biosecurity measures need to be implemented at a wider range of locations than they currently are.”

McCarthy did add that there are strict regulations in place for preventing non-native species getting into Antarctica, but “the success of these relies on having the information to inform management decisions.”

“We hope our findings will improve the ability to detect invasive species before they become a problem,” she added.