Antarctic sanctuary: The Weddell Sea quest

We join Greenpeace on their Antarctica expedition as they fight for the creation of the world’s largest protected area.

29 May 2018 11:12 GMT 

For centuries, mankind has been hooked on the concept of a mysterious continent at the end of the world. Ancient Greeks and Romans called it “the unknown southern land” and a century ago, Captain Robert Falcon Scott paid the ultimate price on his famous South Pole expedition.

Antarctica, the planet’s southernmost continent, is home to spectacular biodiversity – from emperor penguins and blue whales to krill. But climate change, plastic pollution, oil drilling and an ever-expanding commercial fishing industry are threatening this undisturbed land and its iconic creatures.

Antarctic penguin populations have dropped more than 25 percent on average over the past two decades. [Al Jazeera]

Now a bid is under way to create a massive Antarctic Ocean sanctuary in the vast and remote Weddell Sea. The marine reserve would cover 1.8 million square kilometres and would be protected from direct human impacts like fishing, oil drilling and deep-sea mining.

“The sanctuary will be about five times the size of Germany. The proposal is already on the table and has already got the backing of the EU,” says Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, who leads the Weddell Sea petition – one of the most significant campaigns in the environmental organisation’s history.

READ: The Weddell Sea proposal: Petition to create world’s largest protected area

“Scientists are saying we need to protect a third of the world’s oceans, at least. If we want to let fish stocks recover, if we want to mitigate against the worst impacts of climate change, then Antarctica is a great place to start,” he adds.

Researchers are collecting scientific data to be compiled in a body of evidence in support of the sanctuary proposal [Al Jazeera]

Formulated by Germany and backed by the EU, the Weddell Sea proposal aims at creating a haven for Antarctica’s wildlife and preventing the spread of the devastating effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution.

Paul Ruzycki, captain of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, explains why he joined the expedition, one that could face real dangers in treacherous waters.

“I am here for the same reason as the other people: for the cause … Getting people to realise why they should care about the Antarctic … this is wildlife that people have never come across, or will never come across,” says McCallum.

“Being able to tell that story relies on us getting there and relies on us getting that footage back, to talk about the importance of marine sanctuaries. Climate change will not be … as bad if we make parts of the ocean off-limits.”

In October 2018, the 36 governments responsible for the conservation of Antarctic waters will consider the Weddell Sea proposal.

earthrise joins Greenpeace’s expedition to the Weddell Sea, as a team of scientists, ocean photographers and ocean experts sets out to gather sufficient evidence to ensure that the proposal is carried through and that international support is garnered.


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