16 Jan 2018 - New Zealand is being urged to help create what would be the largest protected area on the planet.
Greenpeace this week launched a campaign backing a European Union proposal to establish a 1.8 million sq km ocean sanctuary in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, one of three new bids going before the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October.
The environmental group is now leading an expedition to the frozen continent that for the first time will put humans on the floor of the Weddell Sea, which lies between Coats Land and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Expedition members aboard Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise will undertake scientific research in submarines and document the area's unique wildlife, identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems and new species on the seabed, including rare corals and sponges.
The crew will also carry out water sampling to identify any plastic pollution in this remote region.
"This sanctuary would mean an urgently needed safe zone for creatures like penguins, whales and seals that call the diverse Antarctic ecosystem 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."
Dr Susanne Lockhart, an Antarctic specialist with the California Academy of Sciences, is joining the expedition's dives to the seafloor.
"The first steps have finally been taken by those entrusted to govern the Antarctic Ocean to protect one of the world's last pristine marine ecosystems; an ocean that connects all oceans."
Greenpeace aimed to spark a global movement calling for governments around the world to protect the Antarctic, Larsson said.
Antarctica held a special place for New Zealanders, cemented by Sir Edmund Hillary establishing Scott Base there in 1957, she said.
"New Zealand has a history of being at the forefront of the global fight to protect Antarctica, and last year we were successful in driving the creation of one of the world's largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Ross Sea.
"Now we need to get behind the fight to create even greater protections for Antarctica.
"An Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary would not only safeguard the unique wildlife in the area, but it would also ensure the ocean has a chance to help defend against the worst effects of our changing climate."
The other proposals going before CCAMLR was the "Domain 1" proposal around the Antarctic Peninsula, led by Argentina and Chile, and an MPA in the East Antarctic, led by Australia and the EU.
To come into effect, all required a consensus by CCAMLR by its 24 member states, including founding member New Zealand, and the EU.
The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters referred the Herald to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which said New Zealand was a "strong supporter" of MPAs that were based on robust science.
New Zealand had also actively supported progress on each of the three new proposals, by providing assistance such as technical expertise and review, a spokesperson said.
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