Politics and penguins: The struggle to avoid wasting Antarctica


On January 27, 1820, Russian explorer Fabian von Bellingshausen gazed excitedly by means of his binoculars upon the lengthy wanted terra incognita, the land we all know in the present day as Antarctica.

Three days later a British expedition, led by Irish naval officer Edward Bransfield, noticed the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The subsequent yr, in 1821, John Davis, an American sealer and explorer, was the primary particular person to step foot on mainland Antarctica.

The invention of the Antarctic continent got here at a time when planetary issues had been extra about territory claimed than the local weather disaster, however the sights they beheld two centuries in the past stay simply as dramatic and breathtaking in the present day. The query is – for a way for much longer?

Not but the realm of man

In 2018, I used to be a part of a scientific expedition on board the icebreaker Arctic Dawn exploring the Antarctic Peninsula. We pushed by means of into the distant wilderness of the Weddell Sea.

“It’s exhausting to think about any human affect right here because the Arctic Dawn gently pushes by means of a sea of ice,” I wrote.

“A lone ship in an unexplored sea. It can not really feel extra remoted, distant and simply gorgeous.

“Right here too exists a spectacular competition of life. It’s the realm of blue whales and orcas, of leopard seals and penguins and myriad marine animals, of hundreds of species but to be found. It isn’t but the realm of man. And lots of need to preserve it that manner.”

Certainly the aim of that 2018 expedition (above) was to supply backup science for a bid to create an unlimited Marine Protected Space (MPA) within the Weddell Sea.

That yr the bid failed, stymied by objections from Russia, China and Norway on the annual assembly of the Fee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Dwelling Sources (CCAMLR), the worldwide physique that oversees marine conservation in Antarctica.

However this month a brand new, repurposed model comes beneath scrutiny, at a time when safety of our oceans is extra essential than ever.

Andrea Kavanagh oversees the Pew Charitable Trusts’ efforts to guard Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, particularly from overfishing.

“We will’t afford to delay decreasing the impacts of business fishing as a result of local weather change impacts are already damaging the area with ever-increasing temperatures,” she instructed Al Jazeera.

There’s a massive push to scale back the persevering with assault on essential krill fisheries. These crustaceans are on the coronary heart of the Antarctic marine meals internet, serving as a fundamental meals supply for the area’s iconic animals similar to blue whales, fur seals and penguins. However manufacturing facility ships are hoovering up the krill in ever-increasing portions, threatening the fragile meals chain.

Research present that designating MPAs would shield the area’s distinctive marine ecosystem for generations to come back and really enhance fisheries on the surface of the protected zones.

Marine parks

This yr there are three marine parks up for designation – within the East Antarctic, the Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Collectively that equates to greater than three million sq. kilometres (1.8 million sq. miles) of the Southern Ocean that may very well be regulated and shielded from all types of human exercise.

The governments of Chile and Argentina have thrown their weight behind the push to guard waters across the Antarctic Peninsula. A joint scientific expedition to the area was just lately the topic of a spectacular documentary filmed by Nationwide Geographic’s Pristine Seas challenge.

Proof of the deterioration of this important wilderness was plentiful. Mercedes Santos of the Argentine Antarctic Institute stated they use penguins as indicators of ecosystem well being.

“Within the [penguin] colonies the place we work there was a 70 % discount in dimension,” Mercedes stated. “That’s a worrisome quantity. Plenty of failures. It’s unhappy. We all know that Antarctica, that the Antarctic Peninsula is altering in a short time.”

And simply as telling is the state of the ocean ice. Lieutenant Commander Engelbert Mori is chief of the Chilean Arturo Prat analysis base on the South Shetland Islands.

“We have now meteorological information since 1947,” he stated. “Prior to now, 20 years in the past, the ocean was frozen for 4 to 6 months. Now it freezes for under a month or a month and a half. The local weather has modified right here in Antarctica.”

A digital affair

This yr the CCAMLR assembly is, in fact, a digital affair, ramping up the problem of reaching consensus with out the good thing about face-to-face conferences.

However 2020 not solely marks 200 years because the discovery of Antarctica; it’s going to additionally see the 61st anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty. And that was an settlement reached on the top of the Chilly Conflict when nations agreed to guard a whole continent.

The one factor that stops proposals like these from getting over the road is a scarcity of political will. Certainly that now has to alter, to guard a threatened continental ecosystem that has advanced in good and fragile stability over hundreds and hundreds of years.

Your atmosphere round-up

1. Carbon cuts: In a bid attain net-zero emissions by 2050, a gaggle of high asset house owners, whose portfolios have a mixed value of $5 trillion, have committed to phasing out between 16 and 29 % of carbon emissions linked to their investments through the subsequent 4 years.

2. Wind energy: Final week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced plans to funnel 160 million British pounds ($207m) into manufacturing websites for wind generators as a part of the UK’s “inexperienced industrial revolution” scheme. Johnson says the UK will turn into “the world chief in clear wind vitality”.

3. Decarbonising cargo: As planes are grounded and transport routes disrupted beneath lockdown, Berlin-based journalist Paul Hockeno makes the case for decarbonising commerce routes over land and sea.

4. Battling wildfires: Embers – small, glowing and easy-to-miss items of wooden or particles – are answerable for igniting 90 percent of homes and buildings throughout wildfires, in line with the Insurance coverage Institute for Enterprise and Dwelling Security in the US. However researchers are discovering methods to mannequin and monitor these windborne hearth starters and create ember-resistant buildings to beat them.

The ultimate phrase

Tipping factors are so harmful as a result of if you happen to move them, the local weather is out of humanity’s management: if an ice sheet disintegrates and begins to slip into the ocean there’s nothing we are able to do about that.

James Hansen, American climatologist


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