Determining pathways into Antarctica for marine biofouling organisms

Ms Arlie Mc Carthy1, Prof Lloyd Peck2, Dr David Aldridge1

1Zoology Department, University Of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Vectors and pathways for marine species moving into the Southern Ocean and Antarctic region are extremely poorly understood, making it difficult to attribute them to certain pathways or mechanisms (i.e. anthropogenic vectors vs natural dispersal mechanisms). Rapid environmental change in the Antarctic region is likely allowing new species to establish that were previously excluded by physiological barriers. Determining likely locations for anthropogenic introductions and the origins and mechanisms of new species’ arrivals has significant management implications (e.g. eradication vs protection, where to monitor etc.). To address this knowledge gap we gathered data from Antarctic managers and public sources on ships that are active in the Southern Ocean across tourism, fishing, research and resupply. We identified frequently visited locations around the region and non-Antarctic ports also visited by the ships.


We estimate there may be approximately 180 vessels and 500+ voyages in Antarctic waters annually, each potentially transporting new species to the region. The tourism, fishing and research sectors show different spatial and temporal activity, likely representing different propagule pressures. The Antarctic Peninsula received the highest traffic, especially from tourism and research. Pathways with the most ships and journeys are between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. However, many ships also travel to the Arctic and temperate Northern hemisphere ports, including substantial amounts of time in Europe, which could be donor regions for anthropogenic introductions in the Antarctic region. We recommend targeted monitoring of hotspot areas and further quantification of species within pathways to Antarctica (e.g. fouling Antarctic vessels).


Arlie McCarthy’s doctoral research at the University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey addresses the potential risks posed by marine non-native species establishing in Antarctica. For at least 15 million years, the Southern Ocean and coastal Antarctica have been largely isolated from nearby temperate ecosystems by physical and physiological barriers that prevent most non-native species from establishing populations. However, warming temperatures and reductions in sea ice caused by climate change, combined with increasing human activity within the Southern Ocean, will lower these barriers. Arlie’s research investigates factors that affect both the transport of non-native species to Antarctic coastlines and the capacity of such species to establish populations, both now and in the future.

In her home town of Melbourne, Australia, Arlie completed a Bachelor of Science (Zoology) and a Diploma in Languages (German) at the University of Melbourne and by final year was taking as many marine biology courses as possible. She then moved to Hobart, Australia, where she completed a Master in Marine and Antarctic Science at the University of Tasmania. As part of her masters, she completed two courses at the University Centre in Svalbard, where she discovered that benthic ecology, marine invertebrates and polar regions are especially interesting.

Arlie is a 2017 John Monash Scholar and her research is funded through a Claire Barnes Studentship from the Zoology Department.

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