Antarctica has the coldest recorded climate in the world. A thick, solid sheet of ice covers all but a mere 2.4% of the continent’s 14 million square kilometres. This remarkable layer of ice is on average 7000 ft thick and contains 70% of the world’s fresh water. With the average monthly temperatures never surpassing 0°F, this icy desert makes for a very harsh living environment. As such, very few Antarctic animals survive above the water all year round. With this in mind, it is relatively surprising to find that beneath its frigid exterior thrives an ecosystem full of variety.
Unfortunately, the damage done to our ozone layer has had a serious effect on this fragile ecosystem. The holes formed in the stratosphere (a layer in the earth’s atmosphere) cause a worldwide effect known as Global Warming. The ozone layer protects us from the harmful UV rays found in our outer atmosphere. When it is irreparably damaged, our world’s climates start to change. Unfortunately for the Antarctic animals, one of the most noticeable changes happens to be occurring in their habitats.
The atmospheric temperatures are changing, and as a result, the ice sheet that makes up 98% of the continent is melting. As it melts, the freezing cold water mixes with the surrounding oceans, changing its temperature and salt levels. This is possibly the worst thing that could happen to this delicate ecosystem. The plants and animals that depend on this environment are unable to adapt fast enough to the changing climate and more and more of them are at risk of endangerment. Some of the animals in that ecosystem are extremely sensitive to their environment and cannot survive in water that changes by even a single degree.
As these animals attempt to adapt to these new changes, they disrupt the ecosystem even more. Some will try to find different feeding or mating grounds, while others will be unable to adapt and be left to die out. If even one of these animals changes its long-established patterns, the ecosystem would be upset. Similarly, the loss of a species would also be extremely detrimental to that environment. As the population of larger Antarctic animals diminishes, their prey would alternately flourish due to a lack of predators and then diminish due to a lack of food for their increased numbers. If were to happen to both predators and prey all throughout the ecosystem, the network would be irreparably damaged forever.
In the recent past, humans believed that the best means of protecting these threatened and endangered species was to place a calculated number of them into captivity. Unfortunately, as previously stated, not many of them are able to adapt to a new environment, and those few who can adapt are rarely able to be reintroduced to the wild. Also, those offspring born into captivity lack some of the basic skills of survival, as they learn from birth to rely not on their instincts, but on their captors.
This tends to lead to problems when they attempt to release them in the wild. The average life span of Antarctic animals that are captured or born in captivity is significantly less than those in the wild. As a result, holding them in captivity can sometimes reduce their expected life span to the point that not enough of them mature to an age in which they are able to reproduce. Without a balance between the number of deaths and the number of births, a species will quickly become extinct. You can read more about the plight of the Antarctic animals at http://www.butwhy.com.au/why-are-antarctic-animals-in-danger