Protecting Antarctica, the heart of the ocean

Blogpost by Veronica Frank, Greenpeace International – May 21, 2012

For many people the Antarctic is little more than a far-away frozen region, literally at the edge of the world; with sterile glaciers, icebergs and colonies of not-so ‘Happy Feet’ penguins, buffeted for much of their lives in the extreme Antarctic wind. The ice-covered waters of Antarctica are actually bursting with life. Magnificent whales, orcas, seals, fish and soaring seabirds come here to forage on krill-rich waters. Below the icy ocean surface, the seafloor is covered with a carpet of creatures of different shapes, colours and sizes, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Every year scientists find yet more species. The Antarctic is the world’s last wild frontier. And it is one that we need to protect before it’s too late.

The Antarctic peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Changes in sea ice has had an impact on krill – the basis of the Antarctic food web, whose depletion might cause potentially devastating effects on whales and other ocean life. After depleting over 80% of fish populations that live close to shore, greedy industrial fishing fleets are moving to the remote Antarctic regions to hoover up fish and to suck up krill to feed the growing seafood demand on the other side of the world.

The future of the Antarctic is in the hand of a group of countries that are members of the ‘Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources’ (CCAMLR). They have put in place a unique set of rules to protect waters around Antarctica. This system contains a mechanism to establish marine reserves, national parks at sea where fishing and other destructive activities are prohibited. In 2009, CCAMLR members agreed to protect key Antarctic waters by 2012. The clock is still ticking, but progress has been very slow.

Today the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, which includes Greenpeace and partner groups, is launching a new publication, Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection’ which makes the case for the creation of a network of 19 large no-take marine reserves and marine protected areas covering over 40% of the Southern Ocean and the precious habitats and marine life within it. There is no time to waste. We need to act now before it is too late.

At the next CCAMLR meeting in October 2012, CCAMLR members will have the unique opportunity to create this largest network of marine reserves. A good outcome – with our pressure – will demonstrate to governments and politicians that we need a global network of marine reserves in the rest of the high seas, which are still largely unprotected.

We need your help to save the Antarctic oceans! Sign the AOA petition and let governments know that we are watching and we expect them to make the right decision, to protect our oceans for the future we need.

Veronica Frank is a Greenpeace International oceans campaigner based in London.

  • Steve

    I agree; the Antarctic should be conserved.

    Two centuries down the track our descendants will no doubt need the resource rich continent to fuel their society.

    As to your claim:

    “The Antarctic peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Changes in sea ice has had an impact on krill – the basis of the Antarctic food web, whose depletion might cause potentially devastating effects on whales and other ocean life.”

    Currently, the temperature along the West Antarctic Peninsula is 3-4 degrees below average.

    Temperatures along the West Antarctic Peninsula have been below average for over a year.

    Loss of sea ice is argued to be a cause of declining krill. In 2007 CBS News, in a story titled “Watching the World Melt Away,” took journalism to the dark depths of ideological propaganda linking supposed sea ice loss to penguin decline.

    “… Krill grow beneath the sea ice, but in the warming ocean, the sea ice is melting away. “So the penguins have been going to sea and starving to death?” Pelley asks. “The chicks are declining and we think they just can’t find the krill,” Sue Trivelpiece says. “When you can link a change in warming in air temperature to ice to krill to penguins and show a 50 percent reduction in the penguin population here and connect all the dots you really can’t make it any clearer than that,” her husband adds.

    Unfortunately for that argument is the fact that current Antarctic sea ice is currently 442,000 square kilometers ABOVE average and it has been generally above average for the last decade.

    Only a few percent of the Antarctica coastline (the West Antarctic Peninsula) currently has below average sea ice, so Krill are having a good time along 98% of Antarctica’s coastline.

    So, sea ice loss in Antarctica is not occurring. So what do you suppose may be killing krill?

    A growing whale population – that’s what!

    Trivelpiece herself in 2011, while still maintaining the loss of sea ice falsehood states that the:

    “The second krill killer is actually a conservation success story—rebounding populations of baleen whales, such as humpbacks. “From what information is available, stocks of krill-eating whales are beginning to return, and their numbers are growing,” Trivelpiece said.

    The problem Trivelpiece and your alarmist article face is that it appears that stocks of Krill are not declining at all, according to evolutionary biologist Dr Alistair Evans, of Monash University in Melbourne, and colleagues when studying the size of whales.

    “But the blue whales are an exception, he says. “It’s continued to get bigger,” says Evans. He says ocean currents boosting the amount of krill around the Antarctica are likely to be responsible for this growth.”

    When it comes to Happy Feet, readers of this blog will be pleased to know:

    “A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought. The results provide an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird, which breeds in remote areas that are very difficult to study because they often are inaccessible with temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit.”

    So, enough of this alarmism. Despite two decades of doom saying, penguins, whales and krill are all doing very well, thank you very much, frolicking happily amongst above average sea ice.

    Once again, I’m all for conserving Antarctica; our children’s children will need to mine it.