Malvinas Current

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The Malvinas Current is a cold water current that flows northward along Patagonia’s Atlantic coast.

The current, sometimes known as the Falkland Current, comes from the Spanish word for the Falkland Islands, Islas Malvinas. The water carried by this current contains nutrients, making the location a prime hunting ground for squid.

What is the Malvinas Current?

The Malvinas Current is a branch of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), an ocean current that circles Antarctica from west to east.

As a result, the Malvinas Current transports frigid subantarctic water to Argentina’s coast, reaching as far north as the mouth of the Río Plata, which flows between Argentina and Uruguay and meets the Brazil Current.

The current is deep, reaching the seafloor and spanning a region of around 1800 kilometers (1,100 miles). The Malvinas Current’s water temperatures average around 6 degrees Celsius.

Brazil-Malvinas Confluence Zone

The cold current of the Malvinas Current combines with the warm, saltier tropical waters of the Brazil current just off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay to form the Brazil-Malvinas Confluence Zone.

Plankton Rich Zones in the Malvinas Current

The Malvinas Current’s chilly waves stir up nutrients from the ocean’s floor, bringing them to the surface.

This satellite image shows a phytoplankton bloom stretching along the Malvinas Current for hundreds of miles.  Image: MODIS, NASA, 28-December-2017.
This satellite image shows a phytoplankton bloom stretching along the Malvinas Current off the Falkland Islands for hundreds of miles. Image: MODIS, NASA, 28-December-2017.

The Malvinas currents’ nutrient and plankton rich zones have resulted in a complex ecology teeming with plant and sea life. The abundant phytoplankton bloom serves as the foundation for the area’s marine life.

Commercial Fishing in the Malvinas Current

The richness of fish and other marine life present in the Malvinas Current’s affected areas has resulted in a substantial fishing industry off Argentina’s coast.

Fishing hauls and licensing fees are a significant source of revenue for Argentina and the Falkland Islands in that region.

Fishing for Squid

Ilex argentinus, a species of short-finned squid, is a dominant source of fishing in this area. The fishing for this squid species is so severe that it can be seen from space.

A cluster of man-made lights sits 300 to 500 kilometers (200 to 300 miles) offshore, according to a 2012 composite map of the planet at night prepared by the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center and the NASA Earth Observatory.

Lights from fishing boats off the coast of South America can be seen in the area of the Malvinas Current in this 2012 composite satellite image from NASA.
Lights from fishing boats off the coast of South America can be seen in the area of the Malvinas Current in this 2012 composite satellite image from NASA.

Night fishermen use bright floodlights to attract plankton and fish to the ocean’s surface. The squid, which ordinarily live 80 to 600 meters (250 to 2,000 feet) below the surface, follow their prey to the surface and are captured by fisherman using jiggling lines.

The hundreds of lights carried by each squid boat produce more than 300 kilowatts of light. In the high chlorophyll areas off the coast of Argentina, up to 200 squid boats can cluster at the same time.

Illegal Fishing

This location, tens to hundreds of miles off the coast of Argentina, is home to the world’s second largest squid fishery, where the continental shelf’s underwater edge, the nutrient-rich Malvinas Current, and the boundaries of Argentina’s and the Falkland Islands’ exclusive economic zones converge.

The collapse of a fishing agreement between Falkland and Argentina in 2005 has aided the spread of illegal fishing in the area.

Argentina and the Falkland Islands have exclusive rights to fish in the South Atlantic up to 320 kilometers (200 miles) offshore. Only roughly 100 licenses are provided each year to fishing businesses based in the Falkland Islands and Argentina, despite the fact that up to 200 boats may be in operation at any given time.

Conservationists and fishery specialists estimate that up to 300,000 tons of Ilex squid are illegally collected from the region each year. With only eight ships in the Argentine Coast Guard to patrol over one million square miles (2,800,000 square kilometers), strict enforcement of fishing rights is nearly impossible.

References

Cannizzaro, A. (2013, June 24). Malvinas current: Jets fast and nutritioushttps://www.conicet.gov.ar/malivinas-current-jets-fast-and-nutritious/

Carlowicz, M. (2013, October 22). Something fishy in the Atlantic night. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Malvinas

Gyory, J., Mariano, A. J., & Ryan, E. H. (2013). The Malvinas current. Ocean Surface Currents. https://oceancurrents.rsmas.miami.edu/atlantic/malvinas.html

Handlining and squid jigging. (n.d.). Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. https://www.fao.org/3/t0511e/T0511E02.htm

Kuring, N. (2005, May 7). Malvinas current, South America. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5479/malvinas-current-south-america

Warren, M. (2013, March 25). Outlaw fleet scoops squid from Argentine waters. AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/228015c2f3034248bbbf45a88b5f584b

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