According to some people, 2012 is supposed to be a year of transformative events. Well I don’t know about astronomical alignments, the Mayan calendar and all that, but for us oceans campaigners, 2012 is definitely significant – for 2012 is the year by which the world’s governments should have committed to a global network of marine protected areas. The shocking thing is that for all the fine words, currently our oceans are unprotected: only a mere 5.9percent of national waters and just 0.5percent of international waters are set aside as off-limits to destructive fishing, energy exploration and other industrial threats, leaving the vast majority open to plunder. While it may not be the end of the world just yet, scientists from theCensus of Marine Life  and IPSO  have been warning us that the oceans and the wonderful array of marine life they hold cannot withstand our pressures forever.

In order to address this sad state of affairs, Greenpeace has drawn up an Emergency Oceans Rescue Plan and is campaigning to ensure the world’s governments live up to their promises and put in place the steps to create a global network of marine reserves. While the Arctic Ocean and some other areas of the high seas totally lack any means by which to establish marine reserves and protect marine life there is one area where efforts are being made to provide adequate protection – the Southern Ocean.

These icy waters that surround Antarctica are home to some of the most extraordinary creatures on earth, including blue whales, emperor penguins and giant polar sea spiders. These waters are some of the most pristine on the planet and the Ross Sea in particular is almost unique in having a full complement of top predators, while in most parts of the world’s oceans up to 90 percent of the top predators have been removed by overfishing. Unlike other areas of our oceans, there are fairly comprehensive rules as to what activities may take place in the waters around Antarctica.  This is thanks to the existence of a body created specifically to manage these fragile and unique waters: the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a key component of the Antarctic Treaty System.  Most importantly, CCAMLR rules enable the Commission to establish MPAs and marine reserves and the Commission has set itself the task of creating a set of proposals for protected areas by 2012 in line with the global target.

This is a unique opportunity for the member countries of CCAMLR to set a fantastic precedent by establishing a comprehensive network of marine protected areas throughout the Southern Ocean and show the rest of the world what can be done to protect the high seas if only there is the political will.  Because governments do not always have that commitment, Greenpeace and other groups have come together as the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) to ensure that areas such as the Ross Sea are given the protection they so desperately need.

Today is the official launch of the AOA as well as the publication of an expert report on why the Ross Sea should be included in a future Southern Ocean marine reserve network.

Among the supporters of the AOA are Hollywood actor Ed Norton, and the preeminent marine biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle, seen here in a video about the importance of the Antactic region to our world:

You too can join Ed, Sylvia and the Antarctic Ocean Alliance in calling for protection of the one-of-a-kind Antarctic waters by adding your name to the AOA petition and joining the “Watch” of CCALMR to be sure delegates protect Antarctica’s amazing marine environment.

P.S. Over the coming months, our team of oceans paramedics will be reporting from around the world, from Rio to the Arctic, letting you know which countries are coming to the aid of the oceans and which aren’t.

Richard Page is an oceans campaigner and coordinator of Greenpeace’s global marine reserves campaign, based in the UK.