Antarctica was the seventh and final continent discovered by explorers in the 1820’s and is located on the southernmost point of Earth’s geographic axis, more commonly known as the South Pole. Although there are no permanent human residents on this continent, it serves as a temporary home to scientists, researchers, documentary filmmakers and photographers hoping to catch and record a glimpse of this uninhabited continent. Approximately 98% Antarctica is an ice sheet made of glaciers, while the other 2% is made of rock. This magnificent continent is also home to the Antarctic Ocean, which helps support whales, seals, penguins, and many more species of fish and birds.
Because Antarctica is largely unexplored and rarely inhabited (except by visiting scientists), the surrounding ocean and coastlines remain intact, unpolluted and mostly untouched by tourists. Recently, tour companies have been boating right onto the coast. It is documented that human activities such as building on fragile coastlines can kill endangered species with the pollution and encroachment on native habitats.
Over the past of months, the United States and New Zealand have been calling for a marine refuge in the Southern Antarctic Ocean – home to a plethora of crucial marine animals such as whales, penguins and seals, all of which are largely untouched by recreation and human involvement. This area is one of the most pristine in the world, and creating a marine reserve would allow scientific exploration in order to learn more about the ocean, which is the largest and most unknown part of our world.
However, the refuge has been met with opposition. Russia, China and Ukraine, countries with interest in commercial fishing, have shot down the proposal. There has been an alternate proposal by the European Union, Australia and France to create a connected network of protected areas instead of one large refuge, but this was shot down as well. Nothing has been passed in months because of the argument about fishing.
Also, like the rest of the planet, Antarctica is not immune to the effects of global warming. The continent has been plagued with the warming of ice and changing habitats, impacting the wildlife that are unique to the continent and its waters. It is hoped that scientists document the changes from global warming first-hand and can provide solutions for this continent and the others, which are plagued by global warming issues as well. With a refuge as a sample population, scientists would be able to research global warming effects.
Check out this video from Antarctic Ocean Alliance to learn more about what’s at stake if the Southern Ocean is not saved: