Annette takes us out on a zodiac to analyse phytoplankton and krill. We dangle an instrument over the side called a Secchi disc and record the point of depth where we lose sight of it. This is where it enters the phytoplankton column, in our case around 8metres deep. “It’s critically important as the base of the food-chain, eaten by krill, which is in turn eaten by whales and penguins,” said Annette. “Phytoplankton seems to be decreasing and we’re not exactly sure why. Our research can assist determining whether this is due to atmospheric warming, acidification, or changes in sea currents,” she said.
Some of the krill we land in a trailing net, micro-crustaceans, are taken back to the laboratory for analysis under microscope. “It’s more to show passengers what the sea, which can look empty, is really like under the boat and all around them. It’s teeming with life,” said Annette. Satisfyingly, the microscope work also determines the two suspected items of microplastic we harvested on Deception Island are organic matter, likely bone.
“You’re not just coming here to be entertained. You’re coming here to be informed, inspired, and motivated to change yourself and those around you with a greater respect for nature,” Sylvia Earle told me, her words a clarion call for all Antarctic voyages to put science at their heart.
About the trip
AE Expeditions offer a 12-day voyage to The Antarctic Peninsula onboard the Sylvia Earle. Various dates are available during Winter 2023/24