March 30, 1988 OZONE DEPLETION HARMS ANTARCTIC PLANKTON WASHINGTON (AP) - A veteran Antarc
March 30, 1988
OZONE DEPLETION HARMS ANTARCTIC PLANKTON
WASHINGTON (AP) - A veteran Antarctic researcher announced
findings Tuesday indicating that the depletion of the Earth's
ozone layer could threaten the world's food supply.
Professor Sayed El-Sayed of Texas A&M University said
increased amounts of ultraviolet light, which a thinner ozone
shield permits through to the Earth's surface, suppresses
biological activity in microscopic marine plants in the Antarctic.
El-Sayed said his findings, the first of their kind, confirm
strong suspicions of biologists that ultraviolet light might mean
trouble for fish, animal and other life in the southernmost part
of the world.
On the other hand, "I never underestimate the resilience of
nature," he said.
El-Sayed said it is impossible now to say whether the plankton
-microscopic single-celled organisms called "the grass of the
sea"- and the organisms that feed on them might adapt to
increased ultraviolet radiation, and much work remains to be done.
Plankton and the tiny shrimp-like creature called krill that
feed on them are the primary food source for the whole web of
life in the Antarctic, including fish, penguins and whales. A
baleen whale may eat three tons a day.
"If anything happened to the krill population, the whole
ecosystem probably would collapse, and you can say goodbye to the
whales and the penguins and the seals and the fish," El-Sayed
told reporters at briefing arranged by the World Resources
Institute, a Washington environmental research organization.
Several nations are studying plans to harvest krill, a 550-
million to 770-million ton reservoir of protein. A 10 percent
annual harvest would almost equal the current world fish catch.
The ozone shield over Antarctica already thins greatly in
springtime, with the depletion reaching a record 50 percent last
year. Scientists attribute the destruction of ozone to man-made
chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a 1 percent
drop in ozone means a 2 percent increase in ultraviolet light and
a 4.8 percent to 7.5 percent increase in the most common skin
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on March 15
said a depletion of ozone at mid-latitudes of the Northern
Hemisphere since 1969 was in all likelihood the result of those
chemicals. The Du Pont Co. said last week it plans to stop making
EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas told reporters over lunch
Tuesday that the EPA and NASA would try to speed up the first
scientific review under last fall's treaty by 31 nations calling
for a cut in CFC production by 50 percent by 1998.
Thomas said he would not support bills in the Senate, subject
of a hearing Wednesday, calling for an early 95 percent cut in
A U.S. cut beyond international agreement might take the
pressure off other CFC-producing countries to act further, Thomas
said, and would add little to ozone protection.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank