Marine mussels have been recently found in Antarctica, raising alarms about the impacts of non-native species on that continent’s frigid coasts.
In 2019, a scientist found a colony of juvenile mussels on King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Researchers said later these were Patagonian blue mussels—plentiful in Chilean waters— that most likely arrived on the hull of a ship.
This mussel colony is viewed as the first ever invasive species to be found alive on Antarctica. Notably, when scientists returned to the same site after Antarctica’s winter (in which water temperatures drop below 30ºF for several months), they did not find any more mussels.
The discovery of mussels has heightened concerns about climate change affecting Antarctica and its unique ecosystems and wildlife.
Conservationists are also concerned that ship traffic related to tourism, research, and fishing is also exposing Antarctica and its pristine wilderness to human impact.
At least five ports are already considered “Antarctic gateway cities,” but between 2014 and 2018 another 53 ports had vessels departing directly to Antarctica.
In addition to mussels, which are notoriously proficient in attaching themselves to ships, algae, barnacles, and crabs have been found to have “hitchhiked” to Antarctica.