Polar Oceans in Peril

and a planet at risk

Feature story - July 21, 2009
The snow-covered lands and icy waters of these polar regions are, for many people, the purest examples of true wilderness left on this planet. While the Arctic has been home to indigenous peoples for a millennium, Antarctica has only played host to visiting explorers and scientists. Both polar oceans are, however, home to distinctive wildlife that has adapted to the extreme environmental conditions, such as the Arctic's polar bears and the Antarctic's penguins. Polar waters provide rich feeding grounds that sustain large populations of seabirds and marine mammals, including the majority of the world's great whales.

Indicators of our planet's health, the poles provide us with an early warning that we are compromising the Earth's ability to sustain life as we know it. It is already too late to avoid profound negative changes at the poles. But, we can limit further impacts by establishing boundaries that stop the commercial fishing fleets and the oil and gas industries from plundering and polluting these already-damaged ecosystems.

The profound physical changes happening at the ends of the Earth are a wake-up call that we ignore at our peril. How we treat the Polar Oceans has major consequences for the planet as a whole. Our generation has a unique opportunity and responsibility to take action to bring us back from the brink of runaway climate change, and to protect some of the most fragile and essential ecosystems on Earth.

There is a compelling body of scientific evidence that demonstrates that setting aside large areas of the ocean from industrial activities, such as fishing and oil and gas extraction, provides protection for valuable species and habitats, maintains important ecosystem functions and allows degraded areas to recover. This is even more important for the Polar Oceans, since the Arctic and Antarctic are warming faster than the rest of the globe and so are under increased stress.

Creating marine reserves in the Polar Oceans will make them both more resilient to the impacts of climate change and will help prevent further, catastrophic climate change.

Greenpeace is calling upon the United Nations and governments around the world to commit to a course of action to save the Arctic and Antarctic.

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