The Arctic Ocean is currently the world's most vulnerable ocean. But the hope is this will soon change. At a meeting held in Ostend, Belgium, last week, the OSPAR Convention agreed to adopt specific measures to protect its Arctic region, including a commitment to secure a marine protected area (MPA) in 2016. This means an unprecedented agreement on Arctic protection, which could result in safeguarding the first piece of a future sanctuary in the High Arctic in just a few months' time.

In 2016, the Arctic may finally receive well-deserved attention from OSPAR: a protected area equivalent in size to half of the surface of Spain (232,650 KM2). An area where no oil drilling or large industrial fishing will take place, and where the protection of threatened habitats and species will be the priority. A protected area where polar bears can live and thrive in their habitat without the threat of Shell finding oil and destroying their home.

Today is a day for celebration. The OSPAR Convention may not be widely known but nonetheless it has shown willingness in fulfilling the United Nations’ commitments on high seas protection. OSPAR will work this year with the aim of protecting almost 10% of the international waters of the Arctic Ocean. However, the journey will not be free of obstacles, as OSPAR has already encountered strong opposition to limit Arctic protection. During this year’s meeting cycle, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have done everything they possibly could to remove any Arctic related issues from OSPAR’s political agenda. 

But thanks to you we have been stronger. With your support, we put on our polar bear costumes, showed up to OSPAR’s political meetings, and talked face to face with its delegates. With your support, over the last few months we unfolded banners at the OSPAR meetings held in Bonn, London and Ostend, urging the delegates to take the lead on Arctic protection.

Thanks to you, we were not alone. We are now 7 million people asking for an Arctic Sanctuary and thousands who have demanded OSPAR delegates to live up to the Convention mandate and history, and be the heroes capable of driving change on environmental protection

There is a bumpy road ahead for those of us who dream of achieving protection for the Arctic Ocean. Together we can make these dreams a reality. The Arctic is our common heritage: we depend on it and what happens there affect us all. Thank you.

Pilar Marcos is the Arctic Team Leader for Greenpeace Spain.