As the snow in the UK finally melts and we get back to our normal activities, it might be an opportune moment to turn our attentions outward again, beyond our personal environmental challenges, and think globally.
Antarctica is a land of snow and ice and strong winds, but it is also home to a myriad of species and provides important climate services for the earth.
There are no people native to Antarctica, and most of the current residents carry out scientific research. Antarctica belongs to no single country or group and it follows that everyone has a responsibility to safeguard this unique environment. Antarctica is still relatively free from the detrimental effects of human activity, but only creation of an Antarcic Ocean Sanctuary will ensure that this wilderness purity endures.
We still have barely scratched the surface of the species diversity of the Antarctic Ocean. Some resident species have never been observed by a living person. As I mentioned in my conservation medicine post, biodiversity is vital for the health of humans and the planet. Scientists who study this area are amazed by the variety. It is certain that large scale fishing activity or mineral explorations will significantly harm this important ecosystem and research indicates that Antarctic ecosystems take years to recover from damage.
Greenpeace have been integral to protecting the landmass of Antarctica, but there is more that needs to be done to keep this truly pristine wilderness safe from anthropomorphic degradation. Many of the key species that we are familiar with, such as penguins, rely heavily on the health of the surrounding waters as they are ocean hunters. Vast quantities of krill make these oceans an important feeding ground. Krill are vitally important to the food web at all levels, and are the main food source of several whale species which visit these waters. Seismic blasting, drilling and other mineral prospecting activity adversely affects the natural behaviours of wildlife species. Industrial fishing activities in these waters could have numerous detrimental effects including accidental bycatch, and damage to the sea floor.
The UK government can influence the creation of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary in the waters around Antarctica, as they are part of the Antarctic Ocean Commission. The proposed sanctuary is I.8 million square miles (five times the size of Germany). If you would like to be part of creating the biggest ocean sanctuary in the world you can sign the petition here.
If you would like to be entertained by David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame) dancing with the Antarctic penguins on a recent trip with Greenpeace to promote this campaign then by all means click here and enjoy.