A campaign is growing to designate the world’s largest wildlife sanctuary along the Antarctic coast, creating an area five times the size of Germany in the Weddell Sea and along the Antarctic Peninsula, according to the Guardian. The move would protect a variety of species including blue whales, orca whales, leopard seals, and penguins. Initially proposed by the EU, Greenpeace is set to launch their own campaign in support of the plan on Monday. Several nations, including the UK, have signed on to back the plan.
According to Will McCallum, with Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign,
“The next few years are absolutely essential for the future of our oceans and we are in desperate need for governments to come together and do what is best for these amazing ecosystems.” Citing the successful global effort to create a smaller sanctuary in the Antarctic Ross Sea, in 2016, McCallum continued:
“Now we want to go one better and create the world’s largest protected area. We want to create that momentum that says this is not just possible, it is inevitable if we are to protect the wildlife that call the ocean home and crucially help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.”
Scientists have warned that industrial krill fishing is interfering with the food supply for larger animals in the area. Nations like Norway, China, South Korea, and Russia are heavily engaged in the krill industry, and any plan for protections will depend on their approval.
A Greenpeace expedition will launch this week to promote the idea. They say that 250,000 people worldwide have signed a petition to back the plan.
It is ultimately up to Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources [CCAMLR] to decide on the plan. The group meets in Australia this October, and includes the EU as well as 24 nations.
The ocean surrounding Antarctica boasts such of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. According to experts, the sanctuary would have benefits that reach far beyond the immediate area. Fish populations could spread worldwide if given the chance to recover, spreading biodiversity and bolstering the food supply globally. Supporters also hope that success with this plan could lead to a UN sanctioned network of protected waters across the world.
Furthermore, experts such as Callum Roberts, marine conservation professor at the University of York, say the sanctuary would boost the potential for the Antarctic to help absorb carbon emissions.
“The Antarctic is very important in locking away carbon in deep-sea sediments. There is also a very rapid rate of sinking there – it has some of the coldest waters in the world … and this sinking is one of the great pumps of the global ocean system, said Roberts. “The Antarctic is a massively important area and you mess with it at your peril.”