Ship traffic connects Antarctica’s fragile coasts to worldwide ecosystems

Antarctica, an isolated and long considered pristine wilderness, is becoming increasingly exposed to the negative effects of ship-borne human activity, and especially the introduction of invasive species. Here, we provide a comprehensive quantitative analysis of ship movements into Antarctic waters and a spatially explicit assessment of introduction risk for nonnative marine species in all Antarctic waters. We show that vessels traverse Antarctica’s isolating natural barriers, connecting it directly via an extensive network of ship activity to all global regions, especially South Atlantic and European ports. Ship visits are more than seven times higher to the Antarctic Peninsula (especially east of Anvers Island) and the South Shetland Islands than elsewhere around Antarctica, together accounting for 88% of visits to Southern Ocean ecoregions. Contrary to expectations, we show that while the five recognized “Antarctic Gateway cities” are important last ports of call, especially for research and tourism vessels, an additional 53 ports had vessels directly departing to Antarctica from 2014 to 2018. We identify ports outside Antarctica where biosecurity interventions could be most effectively implemented and the most vulnerable Antarctic locations where monitoring programs for high-risk invaders should be established.


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Authors: McCarthy, Arlie H. ORCIDORCID record for Arlie H. McCarthy, Peck, Lloyd S. ORCIDORCID record for Lloyd S. Peck, Aldridge, David C.

On this site: Arlie McCarthy, Lloyd Peck
18 January, 2022
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences / 119
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