Greenpeace has today launched a campaign calling for the creation of the largest protected area on Earth – a 1.8 million square kilometre ocean sanctuary in the Antarctic.
As part of the campaign, the environmental organisation has set off on an expedition to Antarctica that will see the first humans ever visit the seafloor in the Weddell Sea. The area is the subject of an EU proposal for an ocean sanctuary to be considered by the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October 2018.
Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says the ship’s crew will undertake pioneering scientific research in submarines, document the area’s unique wildlife which is facing pressures from climate change, overfishing and pollution, and gather evidence of the urgent need for governments to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.
“This sanctuary would mean an urgently-needed safe zone for creatures like penguins, whales and seals that call the diverse Antarctic ecosystem home,” she says.
“It would mean the waters would be off-limits to the massive industrial fishing fleets that want to suck up the tiny shrimp-like krill on which Antarctic life relies.”
During the Greenpeace expedition, Antarctic scientists will conduct research to identify vulnerable marine ecosystems and new species on the seabed including rare corals and sponges.
This will provide further evidence for the need for comprehensive protection of the area. The crew will also undertake water sampling to identify the presence of any plastic pollution in this remote region.
Dr Susanne Lockhart, a renowned Antarctic specialist with the California Academy of Sciences, is joining the expedition’s dives to the seafloor.
“The first steps have finally been taken by those entrusted to govern the Antarctic Ocean to protect one of the world’s last pristine marine ecosystems; an ocean that connects all oceans,” she says.
“I’m excited to partner with Greenpeace and provide the science that will help determine areas which should be a priority for protection as countries work together to create the world’s largest ocean sanctuary.”
The expedition to Antarctica will take place over three months in the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise. The crew of 35 includes scientists, campaigners, submarine pilots and deckhands. Larsson says Greenpeace aims to spark a global movement calling for governments around the world to protect the Antarctic.
“Antarctica holds a special place for New Zealanders, and this was really cemented by Sir Edmund Hillary establishing Scott Base there in 1957,” she says.
“New Zealand has a history of being at the forefront of the global fight to protect Antarctica, and last year we were successful in driving the creation of one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas in the Ross Sea.
“Now we need to get behind the fight to create even greater protections for Antarctica. An Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary would not only safeguard the unique wildlife in the area, but it would also ensure the ocean has a chance to help defend against the worst effects of our changing climate.”
Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary:
Greenpeace is campaigning for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary covering 1.8 million square kilometres in the Weddell Sea. The proposal has been submitted by the EU and backed by the German Government. It will be considered when CCAMLR next convenes, in October 2018. Greenpeace’s Antarctic expedition will run for three months from January to early April 2018. For images of Greenpeace’s ship the Arctic Sunrise, which has just commenced its three-month Antarctic expedition, see here.