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Marine Life & Conservation

The Antarctic Peninsula



Think scuba diving, think polar-regions…

Maybe not the first thought for most divers when it comes to exploring the underwater world. But, put the chainsaws and ice blades aside. Polar diving doesn’t need to involve sawing a hole in the sea ice and keeping an ever-attentive eye on the “Jesus beam” (Walker, 2012) of light that illuminates your only route to the surface and the hot tea that’s hopefully waiting for you.

For the majority of people who have experienced polar diving – whether it is in the far north or the far south – their experiences have more likely involved an unassuming backward roll off the side of a Zodiac, a vast expanse of open surface above and unlimited supplies of hot tea upon surfacing. Polar diving programmes are now offered by a select number of expert expedition companies. These programmes have unwrapped the mystery of the polar seas for keen and proficient divers hardy enough to face extreme water temperatures between 3°C and a numbing -1.8°C.

So yes – it is cold, freezing cold. Yet reward is bountiful. Extreme cold often constitutes splendour in nature, and it is splendour on a grandiose scale. While exploring Eastern Greenland in the first half of the 19th century, William Scoresby wrote: “The whole exhibition is frequently a grand and interesting phantasmagoria.”

arctic-peninsula-2When you define phantasmagoria as “A sequence of real or imaginary images like that seen in a dream” (, Scoresby’s description of a polar environment takes some beating. The landscapes, the ocean, the ice formations and the colours are extraordinary in both their vividness and their juxtaposing eeriness.

Many of these polar juxtapositions are best encountered along the Antarctic Peninsula. This 1500 kilometre spit of land stretches from the Antarctic mainland up towards the tip of South America, from which it is separated by one of histories most infamous stretches of ocean: The Drake Passage (McClintock et al, 2008). It is hard to find anywhere else on Earth where the beauty and raw, gnarly power of nature clash on such a tremendous scale as they do along the Antarctic Peninsula.

arctic-peninsula-3If you are one of the few people who take the rare opportunity to dive in this stunning part of the world, you can expect to begin a few dives surrounded by a blissful blue panorama that is nothing short of Scoresby’s phantasmagoria. Indeed it can be hard to fathom where you are and the overall reality of the situation when a flawless azure sky effortlessly drapes a glaciated mountain range, the blue delicately resonating off a mirrored sea surface. The only interruptions to this otherwise untouched sea are the seamless icebergs. Light emanates in every direction. Incorporate a bold Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) buzzing around the dive Zodiac and plumes of Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) blows in the distance and you have in front of you a genuine Antarctica pre-dive scene.

arctic-peninsula-4Of course the splendour of extreme cold is just as real when the environment takes on a muted tone and a more dynamic character. And still it remains ever ethereal. The weather patterns along the Antarctic Peninsula are vast, variable and although not always inviting to a diver – or indeed any human – they are part of the Antarctic ‘deal’. After all, if you went to Antarctica and only experienced dream-like blue skies and calm seas would you not leave feeling somewhat short-changed? Being here is about experiencing the environment. To experience an environment you need to be amongst it, be part of it.

So for all the dives you begin surrounded by azure skies, you will begin just as many surrounded by a foreboding sky so leaden with grey you will question your intentions. As you await the countdown to roll in, icy sea spray whips at the Zodiac and gusts of wind are unmistakeable in their polar origin. But this is when you feel amongst it, this is when you know you are part of it – this is when there is no doubt you are experiencing Antarctica.

arctic-peninsula-5Before you have even ducked under the sea surface, Antarctica is all encompassing. When it comes to taking that first icy plunge, however, there is no mistaking the stark reality of Antarctica’s embrace: this is cold on another level. This is cold that your body doesn’t adjust to. This is cold that you put up with and you put up with it because it is your chance to be amongst Antarctica’s unique, archaic and gravely endangered marine ecosystems.

The shallow marine ecosystems of the Antarctic Peninsula are more akin to a deep-sea environment. The Antarctic Peninsula was once connected to South America before the continents split apart and the Drake Passage was created approximately 40 million years ago. One of the most ecologically important consequences of this split was the creation of a massive ocean current: The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). The ACC sweeps around the southern ocean and encircles Antarctica with such power that it is classed as the strongest current in the world (McClintock et al, 2008). It has essentially created an oceanographic barrier; a metaphorical fence separating Antarctica from the warmer sea and air temperatures further north. As a result the ecosystems of Antarctica have adapted to a specific suite of environmental conditions found nowhere else on Earth.

Whereas the ACC is separated from the majority of the continental mass of Antarctica, along the Western Antarctic Peninsula the topography of the ocean bottom allows the current to directly affect the ecosystems here (McClintock et al, 2008). The ACC effectively injects warmer, nutrient rich water onto Western Antarctic Peninsula shelf. The ecosystems surviving here are thus given the fundamental requirements to thrive and this is one reason diving here is such a joy. A second reason is the opportunity to encounter an ecosystem unlike any other. Along the Peninsula there has been an absence of durophagous (crushing) predators such as crabs and sharks. Perhaps things you want to see while diving? However, the absence of durophagous predators in Antarctica is a major reason why diving here is so unique. There are no thick-shelled organisms here because there has been no need for organisms to evolve such defences. Instead there are vibrant walls adorned with soft corals, tunicates, sponges and sea stars.


The colours are more flamboyant than anyone would anticipate for a polar environment. The underwater colours are certainly the artist’s palette of Antarctica. The warm colours that blaze across the seafloor enrich the white and blue light that reverberates in the sunshine on the surface. Even on a muted day, the underwater world continues to illuminate the environment. Here in lies the beauty and pleasure of diving in Antarctica. It is an opportunity to encounter an exclusive and magnificent part of this region, where surprises abound and the extreme cold is a hurdle thrown off the track.

It is the extreme cold, however, that has prevented durophagous predators from successfully inhabiting the Antarctic shelf waters for millions of years (Smith et al, 2011). The sea temperature has simply been too cold for their survival and the oceanographic barriers and distances are too great for their successful migration into the environment and their subsequent adaptation within it. Until now that is. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth.  The extent of the warming and the potential and indeed present impacts are shocking. While air temperatures have increased by 5-6°C in the past 50 years, sea surface temperatures have increased by approximately 1°C (Smith et al, 2008). These may seem like small increases, but the reality is grave. King crabs (Neolithodes yaldwyni) and Spider crabs (Hyas araneus) have already been discovered along the Antarctic Peninsula. The slight warming of sea temperature here is facilitating their dispersal and survival.

arctic-peninsula-7Influxes of crushing predators such as King crabs along the Antarctic Peninsula will have huge impacts. Organisms here have evolved without the need for strong skeletal defences. Of course this is now subject to extreme change as the overall fragility of the Antarctic Peninsula becomes ever more apparent. The gigantic sea stars that sprawl across the seafloor; the worms longer than humans; the prehistoric looking isopods; the ever-comical sea cucumbers…easy prey. The Antarctic Peninsula will cease to be the world’s most unique marine environment as temperatures continue to rise and predators that have otherwise been absent for millions of years become a common and dominating sight.

The invasion of durophagous predators is of course just one of a number of spiralling changes occurring as a result of regional warming along the Antarctic Peninsula. The ecosystem regimes that characterise Antarctica are changing and they are not changing for the better. Losing the charismatic invertebrates is a shame for divers hoping to explore the wonders of the Antarctic marine world, but for the overall ocean there is so much more at stake.

Every single year scientists are witnessing the winter sea ice dwindling along the Antarctic Peninsula: both the area covered by the ice and the number of days of ice cover is diminishing. On top of this glaciers are retreating and ice shelves are collapsing. While exploring the Antarctic Peninsula you will more than likely hear the thunderous crack of ice calving off the face of a glacier – a sound like no other; it embodies depth in a way thunder can merely mimic. There is no mistaking this sound and it is becoming a regular alarm warning us as to the fate of the Antarctic Peninsula.

arctic-peninsula-8The sea ice in particular is the lifeblood of the Antarctic Peninsula marine ecosystem. Its demise is having an impact at every level of the food web, from the microscopic phytoplankton all the way through to the apex predators. Sea ice cover has reduced by 90 days per year in the past 50 years (Schofield, 2010) and with every day that is lost the entire ecosystem regime becomes under increasing threat. How this regime is impacted is multifaceted and complex. Antarctica is a treasure trove of large charismatic marine animals. The seals, the penguins and whales of Antarctica are recognised by many people worldwide. They are certainly a major reason many people brave crossing the notoriously stormy seas of the Drake Passage. Witnessing a Humpback whale mother and calf duo drifting between the impressive sheer mountain faces of the Lemaire Channel, or coming face to face with an overly jealous Leopard seal as it sets its large authoritarian head on the side of your zodiac and thoroughly stares you down, are moments that make stories that will last a lifetime of dinner parties.

One of the most entertaining tales to tell, albeit a slightly morbid one, is that of penguins under chase. Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are currently found in large numbers throughout the northern Antarctic Peninsula. They are one of a few species of penguin that will porpoise through the water while travelling; a behavior believed to relate to energy efficiency when moving through water while simultaneously managing to breathe (Davies, 2003). The regular flash of black and white is a delight. Little do the penguins know that as they porpoise towards their onshore colony, a Leopard seal awaits. An observant guide will see what is occurring and alert you to the drama that is about to unfold.

A penguin firework is a worthy description! A sudden burst of black and white sparks radiate in every direction when the penguins spot the seal. The neat raft instantly becomes a frenzied plume of penguins on the dash. If one penguin happens not to be the brightest or quickest spark then its chances of ever reaching the colony are slim. On top of this already impressive display, the Leopard seals are not modest when it comes to relishing a successful penguin hunt. Slapping and thrashing the unfortunate penguin on the surface, the Leopard seal skins and de-feathers its catch. The seemingly brash nature of these seals means they are often unperturbed by a boat full of dumbfounded, wet-weather gear clad tourists eagerly snapping away in an attempt to capture the spray of skin and blood (an image that is best served to your dinner guests after the meal). Whether this is nature at its finest or vilest is at the discretion of each enthralled individual. Either way, there is no denying this is nature as it should be. With air and sea temperatures continuing to rise markedly in this part of the world, such “as nature intended” events will come crashing down as the intricate and archaic food web unfurls into a bleak future.


We know the future of the Antarctic Peninsula entails further losses of sea ice. We know that as the sea ice continues to diminish the entire food web hangs in the balance. One tiny organism can put the severity and pervasiveness of this threat into perspective. If sea ice can be described as the lifeblood of the Antarctic Peninsula marine ecosystem, then Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) can be described as the lynchpin. Krill is a shrimp like crustacean measuring little over 6 centimetres and with losses of sea ice krill numbers are crashing. Without krill there would be no Leopard seals, no Gentoo penguin fireworks and no unique diving opportunities. Sitting seemingly unobtrusively near the base of the Antarctic food web, krill is in effect one of the largest sources of protein on earth.

The krill itself feeds upon phytoplankton and as a phytoplankton feeder krill is a relatively large organism. In the majority of marine food webs there are a number of steps between microscopic phytoplankton and a 6 centimetre long crustacean. With each step upwards in a food web, the amount of energy transferred to the higher organism is reduced. This is due to a high percentage of energy consumed at each level being utilised in metabolic processes. Therefore, being just one step above phytoplankton in the food web makes krill an energy rich organism. Couple energy richness with the fact krill can be found in swarms totalling 2 millions tonnes and covering an area up to 450km2  (, the fact that these tiny creatures can sustain the Antarctic Peninsula ecosystem becomes palpable.

You may spot a swarm of krill while sailing through the impressive Antarctic landscape, the giveaway being a pink tinged area of water. If your voyage includes visiting penguin colonies onshore you will be greeted with a much more unambiguous giveaway: a pungent fishy krill smell emanating from the pink penguin poo spattered throughout the colony. Krill is the primary food source of Gentoo, Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae) penguins – all species inhabiting the Antarctic Peninsula and regularly spotted during summer cruises – and alarming population declines in the latter two species are thought to be primarily related to declines in both sea ice and krill ( At the South Shetland Islands on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, Chinstrap and Adélie penguin numbers have declined by over 50% in the past 30 years (Trivelpiece et al, 2010).

This is where the importance of both sea ice and krill  – the lifeblood and the lynchpin –comes to the fore. Without sea ice, krill cannot reproduce successfully. In effect the sea ice acts as a nursery for krill larvae, providing good shelter from predators and a rich source of food thanks to the abundance of phytoplankton found underneath the sea ice (Daly, 1990). If the current rate of warming continues along the Antarctic Peninsula then winter sea ice will fail to form and krill biomass will reduce. Couple this with the current fishing pressure on krill as nations race to exploit this apparent health product (you may have spotted krill-oil tables appearing on the shelves of your local health store?) and the threat of the krill population crashing becomes ever more likely.

One recent study found krill abundance has reduced by 80% since 1970 (Trivelpeice et al, 2010) and the knock on effects are undeniably being seen in the populations of Chinstrap and Adélie penguins as well as throughout the Antarctic Peninsula ecosystem. Gentoo populations are one of the few species currently coping with the changes. This has been attributed to Gentoo penguins being an ice-avoiding penguin (avoids ice by breeding on ice-free beaches/shores and spending the majority of its time at sea foraging) as well as having life-history traits – including reaching sexual maturity at a young age and having a “high reproductive output” – making this species successful at adapting to a changing environment (Pistorius et al, 2010). Whether the Gentoo penguins continue to tolerate the severity of these changes remains to be seen. It is unlikely.

arctic-peninsula-10The future of the Antarctic Peninsula ecosystem is evidently reliant on krill, with penguins acting as a major indicator as to the current impacts of the loss of both sea ice and krill. We know krill sustains the entire ecosystem and its importance permeates throughout the food web. Crabeater seals, Fur seals, Weddell seals, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Southern Right whales, Skuas and Petrels are only a few of the species reliant on krill. Even Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) feed on krill. An organism weighing little over 1 gram is sustaining a whale that weighs on average over 200 tons. Absolutely nobody can deny the future is grave if krill isn’t a part of it. After all, without a lynchpin the wheels fall off and everything comes crashing down.

Whether you are observing the Antarctic Peninsula on the whole or at a more intimate level, this is an inspiring and moving place on every level. Being amongst this stately and distinctive environment is a pleasure, even if your body is encapsulated by cold as you study the marine invertebrates illuminating an underwater wall or you’re witnessing the gory yet enthralling spectacle of a Leopard seal skinning a penguin. Unfortunately it is a pleasure becoming ever more of a chore for the environment to support, because in reality, the wheels are falling off and it is crashing down.


For polar diving programmes check


Main Photos by Jerry Sutton

Cushion star and Sun star by Yoland Bosiger



References for article


Daly, K.L, 1990. Overwintering development, growth, and feeding of larval Euphausia superba in the Antarctic marginal ice zone. Limnology and Oceanography, vol. 35, no. 7, pp. 1564 – 1576.

Davies, L.S, 2003. The Penguins. London: A & C Black.

McClintock, J, Ducklow, H, Fraser, W, 2008. Ecological Responses to Climate Change on the Antarctic Peninsula. American Scientist, July-August, 302-310.


PISTORIUS, P.A., HUIN, N. & CROFTS, S. 2010. Population change and resilience in Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua at the Falkland Islands. Marine Ornithology, vol. 38, pp. 49–53.

Schofield, O et al, 2010. How Do Polar Marine Ecosystems Respond to Rapid Climate Change? Science, vol.328, no. 5985, pp. 1520-1523.


Scoresby, W., Jr. 1823. Journal of a Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery; including Researches and Discoveries on the Eastern Coast of Greenland, made in the summer of 1822, in the Ship Baffin of Liverpool. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co.


Smith, CR et al, 2011. A large population of king crabs in Palmer Deep on the west Antarctic Peninsula shelf and potential invasive impacts. Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. 279, no. 1730, pp. 1017-1026.

Trivelpiece, W.Z, 2010. Variability in krill biomass links harvesting and climate warming to penguin population changes in Antarctica. PNAS, vol. 108, no. 18, pp. 7625 – 7628.

Walker, G, 2012. Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s most Mysterious Continent. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.


Web References

Cool Antarctica, pictures of Antarctica, information and travel guide . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 July 2013].

Diving in Antarctica|Underwater Photography Guide. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 June 2013].


Google, Google Definitions. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 June 2013].

Science Daily, Science News, Changing Climate, Not Tourism, Seems to Be Driving Decline in Chinstrap-Penguin Populations. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 July 2013].

Erin McFadden graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine Biology and went on to become the 2011 European OWUSS Rolex Scholar. Erin is now working around the world as an Expedition Guide and Diver. Over the past year Erin has been working with the Catlin Seaview Survey on the Great Barrier Reef and with Oceanwide Expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.


Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater




In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.

The Mystique of Frogfish

Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.

One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.

Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.

The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.


Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish

Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.

Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.

Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.

Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.

Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.

Conservation and Respect

While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.

Join the Adventure

Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.

So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.

About the Author: Jonathan Rowe

Are you looking to make a splash online? As a seasoned diver and digital marketer, I specialize in crafting bespoke websites and innovative marketing strategies for dive shops worldwide. With my expertise, your business will not only be seen but also remembered.

From deep-sea to digital depths, I navigate the complex waters of web development and online marketing, ensuring your dive shop stands out in the vast ocean of the internet. Contact Scuba Dive Marketing for more information.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida




Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club,, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).


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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: or call 01483 411590 More Less

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