A new aquarium and laboratory at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) will help revolutionise the study of Antarctic marine organisms and ensure the preservation of the pristine values of the Antarctic.

Officially opening the Antarctic Marine Research Aquarium today the Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone said that AAD scientists could now continue research in the land-based laboratory that was previously limited to the ocean-caught organisms that did not always last long or reproduce in holding tanks.

Research on krill has been especially challenging in the past, since they are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions. Longer term and more detailed studies of the Antarctic’s unique marine life will now be possible, with krill given their own 'home away from home’ in a specially chilled and carefully lit environment.

The state-of-the-art aquarium and laboratory cost nearly $1 million and is part of a multi-million dollar upgrade of AAD’s facilities at Kingston, Hobart. The facility is now equal to any laboratory in the world used for the study of Antarctic krill and other marine organisms.

“This innovative aquarium and laboratory complex means that large numbers of krill can be bred allowing scientists to study their reproduction, growth, behaviour and larval biology. Understanding Antarctic krill in particular is critical to understanding the interdependencies and vulnerabilities in the Antarctic food chain,” Dr Stone said.

Krill forms the staple diet of some of the several Antarctic species including whales, seals, squid, penguins and other sea birds. As krill is such an integral part of the marine ecosystem, understanding its life cycle will help us better protect the species from over harvesting in the future.

“Krill has been fished for more than 25 years for human consumption, for farmed fish food and is now used for bait in recreational fisheries. At the peak of krill catch, in 1981, over 500,000 tonnes of krill were taken. The current catch level is some 120,000 tonnes per year, with countries such as Japan, USA, Korea, Poland and the Ukraine involved in the harvesting," Dr Stone said.

This research will provide vital information for helping to plan a sustainable fishery for the future. This planning and management is critical given over-exploitation of krill would pose an enormous threat to the Antarctic ecosystem.

“This facility also provides for important research into the negative effects of past human activity in the Antarctic and its impact on the continent’s or surrounding sea’s ecology. This research will also help scientists find the most appropriate way to tackle the remediation of affected Antarctic sites where, for example, old fuel and chemicals remain twenty and thirty years after they or their containers were abandoned. Solutions that work on mainland Australia need to be adapted for dealing with frozen waste,” Dr Stone said.

“Making sure the heavy footprint of previous Antarctic visitors is removed is a very special challenge for all nations who conduct science and claim parts of the Antarctic.”

“Australia plays a pivotal role in Antarctic research, and these new facilities will allow the AAD to continue to be a key international centre for the study of Antarctic marine organisms,” Dr Stone said.