Greenpeace International has released its first submarine footage from a part of the Antarctic seafloor never before visited by humans.
The footage shows a seafloor ‘carpeted with life’ as well as ‘clear indications of a vulnerable marine ecosystem’ — strong evidence of the need for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary to protect species like whales and penguins.
Greenpeace is currently in the Antarctic campaigning for an ocean sanctuary covering 1.8 million square kilometres, which would be the largest protected area on Earth.
‘Over half a million people have already backed the call for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary – a 1.8 million square kilometre safe haven for penguins and whales. The movement to create the biggest protected area on Earth is growing by the day.’
Head of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign
John Hocevar, a Greenpeace US marine biologist who piloted the submarine, said the team’s first dive in the Antarctic Ocean was ‘amazing’. ‘I really didn’t know what to expect’, he said, ‘but we saw so much life, it was very diverse. There were a lot of species of sponges, corals, sea squirts, a lot of different kinds of sea stars and their relatives, basket stars, feather stars. It was just incredible how the whole bottom was carpeted with life. I really didn’t expect it. I hope the work we’re doing down here shows exactly why we need to protect this precious ecosystem.’
Dr Susanne Lockhart, an Antarctic biologist who visited the seafloor in a two-person submarine, said that despite this being an early stage of the research work, there are already ‘clear indications of a vulnerable marine ecosystem in the initial footage gathered at the seabed.’
She added that following further exploration of the bottom of the sea, the team will be better placed to determine specific areas that should be a priority for protection from commercial fishing in these pristine waters. They’ll also build a body of evidence to support proposals for protection in the Antarctic Ocean.
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is on a three-month expedition to the Antarctic to carry out scientific research, including seafloor submarine dives and sampling for plastic pollution, to highlight the urgent need for the creation of the world’s largest protected area to safeguard fragile Antarctic ecosystems.
The proposal for the sanctuary has been submitted by the EU and backed by the German government. It will be considered when the Antarctic Ocean Commission next convenes, in October 2018.
Key footage gathered from the submarine dives will be submitted to the Antarctic Ocean Commission for both specific, localised protection as well as strengthening proposals for marine protection in the Antarctic.
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