Connected to Antarctica: The Southern Ocean needs protection as a habitat and a carbon sink – Wikipedia

Anyone who has visited Antarctica has a very special experience. It changes us as people. It’s the harshest and coldest climate on Earth where we humans only stand a chance of surviving by working together. I experienced this myself while crossing Antarctica in 1989.

But just because we don’t adapt to extreme cold doesn’t mean that life doesn’t exist in this part of the world. The diversity is incomparable. The nature of the poles has always fascinated us, it has taught us respect and as adventurers and explorers we have set ourselves the goal of connecting people to the poles. We are part of the nature of this planet.

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Even at a depth of 500 meters beneath the ice sheets floating in the Southern Ocean, scientists discovered colorful life during a trip aboard the research vessel Polarstern: sea cucumbers, anemones and giant worms. These creatures, some of which have yet to be described, are part of a fragile ecosystem. They develop very slowly and therefore need special protection. As an Expedition Leader with Scientific Support, I see my mission as demonstrating how climate extremes relate to Earth’s biodiversity.

Arvid Fox, polar researcher and author, is committed to protecting the polar region.Photo: Photo Alliance / dpa

The circumpolar current supplies nutrients to the oceans

Science documents how closely we relate to this part of the planet in numbers: the Southern Ocean absorbs up to 40 percent of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide that the ocean’s biological pump extracts from the atmosphere. In addition, the polar current – a cold ocean current that flows around the continent – is one of the drivers of the global system that feeds our oceans.

Our society is only slowly beginning to understand that biodiversity and the climate crisis are interconnected. The example of krill shows that healthy food webs are essential to the carbon dioxide storage capacity of the oceans: these tiny crustaceans eat phytoplankton during the day and then migrate to the depths. They also transfer carbon down. They are eaten by penguins, whales and seals that dump their excrement and the carbon they contain on the sea floor.

Krill transports tons of carbon downwards

In the Antarctic region alone, krill transfer 23 million tons of carbon each year. This is equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 35 million cars annually. If the krill population becomes unbalanced, for example due to overfishing, the entire Antarctic food web is disrupted: the lives of black toothfish, killer whales and blue whales are threatened and the carbon uptake system is severely disrupted at the same time.

Hunting represents the biggest negative impact on biodiversity and, along with the consequences of rising temperatures due to climate change, it threatens the fragile balance of this very rich ecosystem. With large parts tightly protected – also from fishing activities – the Southern Ocean could remain resilient in times of climate change and continue to serve as a major carbon sink.
Each year, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meets. As early as 2009, 25 countries and the European Union decided to create a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. Conflicts of interest for some countries involved in commercial fishing get in the way. Only through talks at the highest political level can it be resolved or postponed and the protection of the Southern Ocean achieved.

Friday “Antarctic Demo” in Berlin

That’s why I’m part of a large-scale presentation by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Alliance (ASOC), the Bio Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project and alliance partners such as Greenpeace, Scientists for the Future, Friday for Future, and German Environmental Aid. (Editor’s note: Antarctic Demonstration Friday, May 27, from 12 noon in front of the Brandenburg Gate). We would like to draw attention to the important issue of Antarctica and marine conservation. Nearby, representatives of participating countries are simultaneously meeting at the “Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting” (ATCM) – for the 44th time.

Germany is primarily committed to protecting the Weddell Sea. It is one of three marine protected areas planned since 2009, along with the Western Peninsula and Eastern Antarctica. Together they will form the largest marine protected area in human history, covering a total of about four million square kilometres. In recent years, Russia and China have blocked this protection. If countries succeed in mobilizing the highest level of diplomacy in their countries for the idea of ​​protection in these volatile times, it will create the best basis for negotiations. Then great things can also happen at the international level.

The Antarctic Treaty is a good example of this: the global importance of Antarctica’s fragile ecosystem was recognized 60 years ago. Despite international disagreements, 12 countries united, including Russia. It came into force in 1961 and aims to maintain ecological balance in Antarctica, support scientific research and promote peaceful international cooperation.

Above all, we see the 44th Meeting of Antarctic Treaty Representatives, which will take place in Berlin this year, as an opportunity for policymakers to resolve conflicts and ensure the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty continues – for future generations and our planet. It’s time for that now. We must seize this opportunity.

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