Australia and Japan: two decades of collaboration in Antarctic marine science

Australia has had a long, highly productive association with Japan in Antarctic research, especially in marine science. Australian marine scientists have worked in Japan and have participated in Japanese Antarctic Research Expeditions (JARE) just as Japanese scientists have worked in the Australian Antarctic Division’s laboratories as well as participating in ANARE marine science cruises. Recognition of the collaborative ties between the AAD and the Japanese National Institute for Polar Research (NIPR) was marked by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Directors of the organizations in 2000.

The first krill biologist in the Australian Antarctic Division was Dr Tom Ikeda. In the early 1980s Tom undertook pioneering work to show that krill live for 7 to 11 years, rather than the 3 or 4 years that was the conventional wisdom at the time. This finding had major ramifications for the management of the krill fishery. He also demonstrated that krill shrink when in the absence of food — as possibly happens during the Antarctic winter — which overturned the belief that larger krill were older than smaller specimens. Tom returned to Japan in the mid 1980s where he has held a series of distinguished academic positions.

At present, another Japanese krill biologist, Dr So Kawaguchi, is working for the AAD investigating the physiology of krill. In the late 1990s So undertook a year-long fellowship, funded by the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, in the AAD working on, among other things, parasites living in the gut of krill which cause tissue damage and are thought to impair krill growth.

In the early 1990s, when there was no diving capability in the Australian Antarctic Program, Dr Harvey Marchant joined JARE to travel to the Japanese station of Syowa principally to work on diver-collected marine snow — aggregates of single-celled plants, animals and bacteria. The work he undertook with Japanese colleagues was the first report of the composition of marine snow in Antarctic waters and its potential role as food for krill and other grazers.

Several Japanese scientists have worked in the AAD laboratories and others have participated in marine science cruises on the Aurora Australis. Most recently Dr Akira Ishikawa from Mie University undertook a two year fellowship funded though a bilateral program between the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science and the Australian Academy of Science. He worked with Harvey Marchant and Graham Hosie to investigate the ecological role of the smallest (but the most abundant) size classes of phytoplankton in the Antarctic Ocean. This involved both work on marine science voyages as well as experimental studies in the AAD’s laboratories.

NIPR in Japan has an excellent program for hosting polar researchers from other nations to work there for several months. Three scientists from the AAD have been invited as part of this program. Rod Seppelt spent three months in 1985 there undertaking botanical research, Harvey Marchant worked on marine microorganisms for four months in 1988, and in 1997 and 1999 Graham Hosie spent two and three months respectively working on marine invertebrates. Andrew McMinn from the University of Tasmania has recently returned from a three-month stay.

As well as being a Visiting Researcher in NIPR Graham Hosie has built close ties with scientists at other Japanese institutions especially through collaborative investigations using Continuous Plankton Recorders (CPR). These instruments are towed by ships to collect and preserve plankton samples. The samples provide information on the species composition, and abundance of plankton along the ship’s track. The Aurora Australis does several voyages every year along different cruise tracks at different times. In contrast, the Shirase, the Japanese icebreaker used to resupply Syowa station, travels south from Fremantle and returns to Sydney along the same track and at the same time every year. CPRs on both vessels provide different but complementary information. (See the following two articles.)

The most ambitious collaboration to date took place in the 2001–02 summer when Australia and Japan undertook a four-ship survey of seasonal changes in Antarctic waters south of Australia. Australia’s contribution was the spring-time CLIVAR cruise of the Aurora Australis on which three scientists from Japan participated. This voyage was followed by cruises of the Hakuho Maru, the research vessel of the Ocean Research Institute of the University of Tokyo, the Tangaroa, a New Zealand research vessel chartered for use in JARE specially for this activity and the Shirase. The main aim of the four-ship survey was to investigate seasonal physical, chemical and biological changes in the sea ice zone. The cruises were planned so that data from each of them could be analysed together to give information on how the water chemistry and biology changed between November and March. Much of the work has been written up and is expected to be published in a special issue of an international journal.

Discussions are presently underway with our Japanese colleagues on mounting major collaborative initiatives as part of the International Polar Year in 2007. One such venture is likely to be a contribution to the Census of Marine Life, an international initiative to assess the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life.

In the best spirit of cooperation in the Antarctic Treaty system, our interactions with the Japanese have flourished over the last twenty years with some major activities in science but also a deeper appreciation of each other’s cultures by those involved.

Harvey Marchant, Biology Program Leader, AAD