Campaign to Create World's Largest Sanctuary in Antarctic Ocean Gains Momentum
Greenpeace's ship Arctic Sunrise is on its way to Antarctica, where the crew on board will be the first humans ever to visit the seafloor in the Weddell Sea.
The three-month expedition will aim to further the case for a massive ocean sanctuary.
In an effort to combat the threats of overfishing, plastic pollution and climate change in Antarctica, the European Union and Greenpeace have been pursuing since October an ambitious global campaign to create the largest protected area on Earth—a 1.8 million square kilometer (approximately 694,000 square mile) sanctuary in the Weddell Sea and around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Greenpeace Launches Campaign to Create ‘Largest Protected Area on Earth’ https://t.co/veHMyX87nE @BusinessGreen @GreenCollarGuy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1509270007.0
The sanctuary proposal, which would stop industrial-scale krill fishing in an area
about five times the size of Germany, would create "an urgently-needed safe zone" for creatures like
penguins, whales and seals that call the area home, Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner, Amanda Larsson, said.
"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," Larsson further explained.
The proposal was initiated by the EU and already has the support of several countries. Additionally, a quarter of a million people across the globe have signed up in support of the idea, according to the Guardian.
The plan will be presented at a conference of the Antarctic nations in October in Australia, where 24 national governments and the EU will decide its fate.
"In just over nine months' time the Antarctic Ocean Commission meets to discuss whether or not to make history and create the world's largest protected area," said Will McCallum, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace UK. "We have until then to convince the members of this Commission to put aside their differences and create a safe haven for emperor penguins, blue whales, colossal squid and all the other Antarctic animals."
Larsson said 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 the sanctuary.
Crew on board the Arctic Sunrise before it leaves for the Antarctic, 2018
Julian Gutt from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, which introduced the original proposal, told the Guardian that the sanctuary would be an important move in creating a sustainable global ocean system.
"This will bring huge benefits in protecting this amazing ecosystem, in preserving the biodiversity and ecosystem functions of the ocean and in the wider fight against climate change," Gutt said.
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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