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Greenpeace Launches Campaign to Create ‘Largest Protected Area on Earth’

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Paradise Bay, Antarctica. axily / Fotolia.com

Greenpeace has launched a global campaign for an Antarctic sanctuary, covering 1.8 million square kilometers (approximately .7 million square miles) of ocean, to protect whales, penguins and other wildlife.

Following a failure to agree on strong marine protection in the East Antarctic, Greenpeace has called for governments to show "greater vision and ambition" in the coming year and create the largest protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary.


The Antarctic sanctuary would be five times the size of Germany, in the Weddell Sea, next to the Antarctic peninsula.

"Over the next 12 months we have an opportunity to make history: to create an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary which would be the largest protected area on Earth," said Frida Bengtsson, head of Greenpeace's Antarctic campaign. "Ocean sanctuaries not only protect incredible wildlife like whales and penguins, but they ensure healthy oceans which soak up carbon dioxide and help us to tackle climate change."

The proposal, submitted by the EU and championed by the German government, will be considered in October 2018 by the governments responsible for management of the Antarctic marine environment (CCAMLR), which have just concluded this year's proceedings. This proposal follows the successful adoption of the Ross Sea sanctuary which was introduced by the U.S. and New Zealand governments and adopted last year.

"From great blue whales to vast colonies of Emperor and Adélie penguins, Antarctic wildlife is already under acute pressure from climate change and now industrial fishing vessels are vacuuming up the tiny shrimp-like krill which Antarctic life relies upon," said Bengtsson. "The fishing industry simply can't be allowed to expand their operations and steal food from threatened penguins and whales. We now have a unique opportunity to make sure that doesn't happen."

"We have just 12 months to create the largest protected area on Earth. With almost half our planet made up of waters outside of national borders, and an urgent global need for more large ocean sanctuaries, governments now need to show greater vision and ambition to protect what belongs to us all."

Alex Rogers, professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford, said:

"If we're going to avoid the worst effects of climate change and protect biodiversity we need to safeguard more than 30 percent of our oceans and the Antarctic is a fantastic place to start. Threats to the Antarctic are increasing, such as climate change and pollution, including from plastics and fishing. Creating large marine reserves can allow these ecosystems to remain in a fully diverse and functional state. Furthermore, the importance of Antarctic ecosystems in sequestering carbon is only now being realized. There is a narrow window of time for governments to work together to protect the oceans, so the time for action is now."

In January, Greenpeace will be working with independent scientists to gather data which will support proposals to protect large areas in the Weddell Sea and near the Antarctic Peninsula. Greenpeace marine biologist John Hocevar will pilot a two person submarine to explore these remote and pristine waters.

"The pace of action at intergovernmental meetings is not keeping up with how quickly our world is changing," said Hocevar. "We are going to Antarctica to build enough public support that world leaders realize they need to take action now."

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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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